(CN) – A Catholic seminary student who worked long hours as a janitor for a church in Washington cannot sue the diocese for overtime pay, a full panel of the 9th Circuit ruled Friday. The court ruled priests-in-training are not protected by some employment laws because of the “ministerial exception.”
Cesar Rosas claimed that he worked eight to nine hours a day, every day, at St. Mary Parish in Marysville, Wash., for a wage of $225 a week. After entering the seminary in 1995 in Mexico, he was assigned to do maintenance at the church and assist with the Mass, according to the ruling.
Rosas filed a claim against the Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle and the Rev. Horatio Yanez for overtime under Washington’s Minimum Wage Act.
The district court ruled for the defendants, finding that Rosas was a minister, not a regular employee.
A three-judge panel of the 9th circuit affirmed, and at the same time announced a new legal test for determining whether a church worker was a minister under the exception.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based appeals court agreed to rehear the case before a full panel of judges.
Though still affirming the dismissal of Rosas claim, the full panel vacated the portion of the three-judge panel’s ruling that established the new test, finding that it was not needed because Rosas was clearly a minister of the church.
Rosas had argued that he was protected by wage laws because he was hired by the church as a maintenance worker while he was help with the Mass at the church as part of his seminary duties.
It may be “theoretically possible” to interpret Rosas position this way, but his complaint “makes clear that Rosas’ employment was not part seminarian, part secular – it was all part of his seminary training, for which he was paid a comprehensive weekly wage,” the court ruled.
“A church may well assign secular duties to an aspiring member of the clergy, either to promote a spiritual value (such as diligence, obedience, or compassion) or to promote its religious mission in some material way,” Judge Susan Graber wrote for the full circuit. (Parenthesis in original.) “The ministerial exception applies notwithstanding the assignment of some secular responsibilities.”