Methodist minister ruled employee not office holder

by Richard on March 28, 2011

Thinking Anglicans reports an Employment Appeals Tribunal ruling that ministers are employees, not ‘office holders’

A sacked female minister in Cornwall has won a landmark ruling to bring a case against the Methodist Church for unfair dismissal.

The decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal reverses an earlier decision by the Court of Appeal and paves the way for all clergy to challenge their employers in the courts.

The tribunal concluded that Haley Moore, who was dismissed as a minister in Redruth, was an employee under the Employment Rights Act and can take action against her former employer, the President of the Methodist Conference.

The Unite union, which has been fighting for equal rights at work for religious workers for 16 years, said the decision was a “significant step forward”.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Wood 03.28.11 at 10:25 am

From the news story comes this quote: “Some of the best and worst practices I have ever come across have been in churches – which are very politicised organisations. Employment tribunals show a failure in the system and this will make systems more vigorous and hopefully change the behaviour of some individuals.”

Damn right.

2

Mendip Nomad 03.28.11 at 10:51 am

Hmm, interesting that the tribunal found the President of Conference to be her employer - I’m pro-employer status for ministers (I know some who aren’t, for legitimate reasons) but I would argue it is The Methodist Church of Great Britain who is the employer. When I worked in education I was employed by universities and colleges not the Vice-Chancellor (let alone the Chancellor, which is effectively what the President is - if we’re going to identify a person it should be the General Secretary) or the Principal. In terms of a tribunal, had I ever gone to one, it would have the Senate or Board of Governors that were held responsible for my employment, which in our case is Conference and not the President.

If we are going to be employees, can we at least identify the correct employer!

3

Richard 03.28.11 at 11:24 am

Nomad — I *think* the position is that whenever the Methodist Church gets sued, it’s the President of Conference who has to take the stand, as it were. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me.

Wood — I’ve got to admit to having mixed feelings about this. It isn’t an issue I’d want to go to the stake for, but I have a feeling that changing the status of ministers will create a change in the relationship between the church and ministers that may bring benefits but on balance will be unhelpful. We’ll have to see. I think the Methodist Church will appeal this decision, so there may be some way to go.

4

Methodist Preacher 03.28.11 at 11:38 am

Good.

Now we all know where we stand.

Re the legal position of the President of Conference: this is prescribed in the Methodist Church Act. Anyone seeking to take legal action against the Methodist Church has to take that action against the President of Conference.

5

Richard 03.28.11 at 11:51 am

Well, we’ll know when the process is complete. As I said above, I think there’ll be an appeal so it isn’t done yet.

How is your own lawsuit against the Methodist Church coming along, David?

6

Toby 03.28.11 at 12:02 pm

The minister in question was not sacked - she resigned and her resignation was accepted by the Conference. The union press release saying she was sacked has been corrected online (although not reissued) after we pointed out the error.

A full copy of Ken’s statement is: The Revd Kenneth Howcroft, Assistant Secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: “The Methodist Church is seeking leave to appeal against the judgement that Haley Moore’s case is a matter for an employment tribunal. It is treating the matter with great seriousness as something that would affect all our ministers. The Court of Appeal held as long ago as 1984 that Methodist ministers are not employees. A minister’s role is one which is traditionally based on the ethos and laws of the Church rather than on a secular ethos. Our ministers have legal rights of redress under Church procedures. The Methodist Church cares for all who serve it, whether lay or ordained, paid or volunteer, and we want to ensure that we treat everyone fairly and properly.”

And yes - the President of the Conference is the named person in any actions against or on behalf of the Church.

You will, I hope, understand that we can’t say any more whilst it is still be resolved by the courts.

Toby (Methodist Church House)

7

Tony Buglass 03.28.11 at 12:16 pm

“Our ministers have legal rights of redress under Church procedures.”

That is true, Toby, but I was advised by a former President of Conference to join a union because of what he’d seen of Church procedures during his time in office. It does appear to some of us that the Church is happy to treat us as employees when it suits the Church, but not when it doesn’t.

As to the case which is sub judice - no, of course you can’t discuss it, but the fact she resigned doesn’t really make any difference. Resignations can easily be due to ‘constructive dismissal.’ Let’s see how the appeal proceeds, but I do hope the issue will lead to a proper and open conversation about the issue, which we haven’t had so far.

8

Mark 03.28.11 at 12:21 pm

I saw this judgment last week. Very interesting I think and I watch with interest to see the results of the appeal, if permission is granted. I thought the EAT’s distinction between employed by virtue of stationing rather than by virtue of ordination very appropriate. That said, there is something I rather like about not being an employee…

9

Mendip Nomad 03.28.11 at 1:56 pm

I wonder if the Methodist Church Act needs amending should it become law that ministers are employees. I really think it is daft that someone who is in an effectively honorary role for one year should be the named person in a suit, it really should be the General Secretary, who is in a more permanent position and has day-to-day responsibility for the running of the Connexional side of things.

Still, such an issue won’t have an effect on the final outcome, whatever that might be.

10

Methodist Preacher 03.28.11 at 2:26 pm

The Methodist Church Act may need amending as it refers to the president of conference and other key officials as “he”.

For your information this is actual position:

Methodist Church Act 1976

21 Legal proceedings. (1) Any action, arbitration and proceeding of any description by or against the Methodist Church may be brought or defended (or carried on if pending at the commencement of this Act) for and on behalf of the Methodist Church in the name of ‘the President of the Methodist Conference’ by that description (without naming the holder for the time being of that office) and the death or incapacity of the President for the time being of the Conference or the expiration of his term of office or any act or thing done
or suffered by him shall not abate or affect such action, arbitration or
proceeding.
(2) Any writ, notice or other process in any such action, arbitration or
proceeding shall be sufficiently served on the Methodist Church if served personally on the Secretary for the time being of the Conference or delivered atthe office of the Conference.
(3) Any affidavit, statutory or other declaration or any answer or other similar document required from or by the Methodist Church may be made and verified by the President, Vice-President or Secretary for the time being of the Conference for and on behalf of the Methodist Church.
(4) Every President, Vice-President and Secretary of the Conference shall be reimbursed and fully indemnified out of the connexional funds of the Methodist Church against all loss, damages, costs and expenses which he may sustain or incur by reason or in consequence of any action, arbitration or proceeding brought, defended or carried on, process served or document made pursuant to this section.

11

Richard 03.28.11 at 2:41 pm

Kind of you to provide that extra detail, David. Aren’t you going to tell us what has happened to your own legal action against the church?

12

Simon 03.28.11 at 3:26 pm

The actual judgement can be read here

http://www.employmentappeals.gov.uk/Public/Upload/10_0219OJDM.doc

I’m not a lawyer, but as Mark mentions above, it seems that the tribunal decided that being received into full connexion doesn’t constitute a contract, but that acceptance of a particular station in a circuit does.

Interesting then the focus goes on the circuit, but the president and or general secretary of conference get named in any action. Since in a case like this, those two post holders are likely far removed from what has gone on.

So it seems that if the circuit stationing creates the contract, there should be more focus on the circuit as the employer. It seems in this case that whatever problems have arisen have been exclusively in the circuit anyway, rather than at any national level.

So who is (or might be) the onus on? Circuit stewards, the circuit meeting, the chair of district (as the lady in question was a super)? It’s surely relevant that if she had accepted the circuit’s request of a curtailment, she would have been stationed somewhere else in the next round. If she had requested a curtailment of the appointment herself (as either side can) then the same would be true - just stationed somewhere else.

So in that case, on the one hand the circuit might be her employer (as the station creates the “contract”) but the connexion is responsible for finding her that (or another) station in the first place, making the connexion more like an employement agency.

Circuit Stewards will be watching with interest I think.

13

Kim 03.28.11 at 3:33 pm

I started reading the Methodist Church Act 1976 but at the end of (2), realising that I was only halfway through, began thinking about slitting my wrists. How does it turn out?

14

Kim 03.28.11 at 3:36 pm

BTW, I see that this post comes from “Thinking Anglicans”. Perhaps there should be a blog called “Suing Methodists”.

15

Richard 03.28.11 at 3:38 pm

Simon — you’re right. This could be a great big can of worms.

Kim — It was Miss Scarlet. In the library. With the candlestick.

16

Richard 03.28.11 at 3:42 pm

Kim — :)

17

Mendip Nomad 03.28.11 at 3:57 pm

My understanding would be that it is Connexion who station people, so if accepting a stationing is the forming of a contract then it is with the Connexion - a middle manager at a field office in a big company may be responsible for a constructive dismissal but it is the bosses at the head office that are sued, not the middle manager. Another analogy might be, and I know it is not perfect but, heyho: being an officer in the Army is not an employment, it is a commission, your employment comes from being stationed somewhere with a specific role to undertake - if your CO ends up causing you to resign in a campaign of constructive dismissal you do not sue your CO or the barracks/camp to which you were stationed, you sue the Army/MoD.

And, in terms of clergy, the existence of NSM, non-stationed and supernumery Presbyters and Deacons makes it clear that ordination and employment are separate.

18

Kim 03.28.11 at 5:12 pm

Not the Reverend Green, in the study, with (the weapon of choice of some clergy) the Bible?

19

jogger 03.28.11 at 8:03 pm

Please feel to criticise me but I see no way anyone can possibly go on strike with the amount of unemployment their is.
It’s a rather simple notion I am aware but people have got to realise that they have not got the rights to anything in this life. If one does not like the pay scale for a job one can find a different job.

20

Chris Pritchard 03.28.11 at 11:41 pm

I am intrigued by the question of whether I am an employee or not. By ordination and reception into full connexion I act as a presbyter in the methodist church. But I am also “employed” or Stationed by the church to a specific role and place of work.

I know at least on Methodist Minister who acts as a presbyter ie leading worship and preisiding at the sacraments but the person is employed by a secular body acting as a chaplain.

21

fat prophet 03.29.11 at 7:53 am

Kim, you should try reading the Constitution, Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church - you really would slit your wrists. I think we have more rules than can be found in the book of Leviticus!

22

Kim 03.29.11 at 8:11 am

Yes, FP, I know the toxic, lethal reputation of this book. I have a copy, wrapped in clingfilm, stored in a box, kept in a safe next to the cyanide. That way, depending on the nature of my despair, I have a choice between a quick death, or a slow and painful one.

23

Angela Shier-Jones 03.29.11 at 12:20 pm

I actually approve of CPD - at the moment it is still quite a liberating document. It reminds me that I don’t have to accept or abide by the current trend towards excessive governance in Churches, Circuits and Districts - it is best to take a Connexional view. But then we have to take greater care over permitting changes to our standing orders, particularly when they seek to give greater authority to unelected, unrepresentative managers and businessmen who think that greater governance is the answer to the decline of the Church. It is this attitude I believe that makes us feel like employees, even when we insist we are not.

24

Graham 03.29.11 at 2:58 pm

…as an aside, I too like CPD. But what happens when things outlined in CPD are not adhered to locally and no one or nothing will act for you?
That is the main reason why I would like to be an employee- in itself no guarantee of perfection: then there would be a right of redress.

25

Methodist Preacher 03.30.11 at 9:13 am

Graham and Angela, the problem with CPD is that without the Spirit it is essentially a secular document for a secular community. We are a part of a corporation not a body of believers.

Graham hits the nail on its head when he when he asks what happens when the Connexion does not adhere to its own rules and no one internally will act. In short the corporation rejects the rule of law. In those circumstances the only recourse is to take the secular corporation to the secular system of justice.

I am aware of a case (I must not to be too explicit here) where an individual is able to seek quite serious compensation - going on my trades union experience I’m talking in the region of £250,000 - but is reluctant to do so because they do not wish to involve “the church” in a secular legal process, even though I suspect that the case would be settled by the insurers long before it got to court.

As a lay member who has had to manage a very difficult Ministerial stationing I think the sooner we get out of the religious hocus-pocus of “office holder” rather than employee, the better. We need to have a structure, together with the responsibilities and obligations that are readily understood by all.

I comment on CPD in some detail on my own blog, but I know that Richard is reluctant to link to it.

26

Richard 03.30.11 at 7:36 pm

Reluctant to link your blog, David? Not at all. I’m not reluctant. I simply won’t link to it. That might be because of your unremittingly negative attitude to the Methodist Church. It might be because you ignore inconvenient questions (tell us again about the lawsuit you were bringing ‘imminently’ some months ago) and scream ‘abuse!’ every time someone offers any criticism of you. Maybe it’s because you bear grudges, and often come over as humourless and bitter. It could just be that I’m sufficiently vain not to want to send visitors to a site where I am routinely deliberately mis-represented and vilified. Perhaps it is all of the above. You can take your pick.

27

Methodist Preacher 03.30.11 at 10:43 pm

Richard I will send you a private email in response to the above.

28

Richard 03.30.11 at 11:33 pm

OK

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