The federal discrimination lawsuit filed by Chris Orr — the first African American principal of Christian Brothers High School who was fired from the position in October 2019 — has been thrown out after a judge ruled that Orr should be classified as a “minister” and not an employee during his two-year tenure there.
The 22-page “Compliant For Racial Discrimination In Employment” Orr filed on Jan. 23, 2020, at the United States District Court Eastern, District of California, was dropped, with questionable cause, by the Hon. John A. Mendez.
Judge Mendez declared that Orr’s claim is null and void by the “ministerial exception,” which protects religious institutions under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, citing that Orr was a minister and not a principal at Christian Brothers High School.
“Ministerial exception prohibits a court from second-guessing the reasons for employment and administration decisions, whether religious, nonreligious, valid or pretextual,” Mendez stated in a court document.
Orr was contacted by The OBSERVER the day after the ruling, and out of respect to the judge’s decision, would not fully comment on Mendez’s ruling.
But in his defense, the educator said not his job at Christian Brothers High School was not of a person who performs religious ceremonies at the Oak Park school.
“I’m not a minister,” Orr told The OBSERVER. “As a matter of fact, the math teacher at Christian Brothers is not a minister and the English teacher is not a minister. This is far from over. It’s the first leg of a long road.”
Orr — without reason or explanation — was fired on Oct. 11, 2019, by Christian Brothers High School and the school’s then President of the Board and Executive Lorcan Barnes.
Orr had become the first Black principal in Christian Brothers’ history when he was appointed to the position in July 2017.
Many of the parents, instructors, and students were disappointed over Orr’s removal. There were numerous meetings among parents and former instructors at Christian Brothers as well as rallies and walkouts by the students.
Havard professor Dr. Cornel West, a longtime family friend of Orr’s, participated in a rally in December 2019 right out in front of the school to bring national awareness to the educator’s struggles.
Dr. West said the board members of Christian Brothers High School exhibited “a spirit of arrogance” as well as “condescension, impunity, unaccountability” as they handled Orr’s case.
“They have to make sure that accountability is based on clarity and transparency because it’s clear that they have been getting away with this kind of thing for a long time, mistreating Black and Brown people,” Dr. West told The OBSERVER. “They’ve simply met their match when it comes to the Orr family and those who love them.”
The complaint alleges that Barnes terminated Orr because of “enmity” toward him because of his race and because he “associated with students, families, and community members of color.”
Christian Brothers High School and Barnes were named as defendants in the case. Orr is being represented by the Law Offices of Johnny L. Griffin III. Orr’s attorney was asking the court for a jury trial.
On page of four of the complaint, it states that “Orr alleges that the DOE defendants, and each of them, is legally responsible for the incidents and damages set forth here, and that each of said DOE defendants proximately caused said incident, injuries, and damages by reason of their intentional conduct, negligence, breach of duty, or by reason of other personal, vicarious or imputed negligence, fault, or breach of duty, whether based upon agency, employment, or control, whether severally or jointly, or upon any other act or Omission.”
Orr’s court documents also states, “as a direct result of his discriminatory termination,” he “suffered damages including, but not limited to, income loss, tremendous damage to reputation, and emotional distress.”
Judge Mendez, through a virtual hearing with Griffin, dismissed the case on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Orr’s next course of action is to take the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Mendez based his decision on a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on July 8, 2020. The highest court in the land voted 7-2 in favor of the “ministerial exception,” which immunizes religious institutions from employment discrimination claims by teachers and non-teachers.
“Literally, that’s what the court said: ‘Chris Orr is a minister,’” Orr said. “That would mean that all the people that work at Christian Brothers are ministers. I don’t think that’s how the law was written.”
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer