THE RETURN OF THE PICTURE

We reported the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in McRaney v North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 996 F3d 346 (5th Cir. 2020), cert. denied, 210 L ED 2d 961, 141 S Ct 2852 (2021).  The Plaintiff was formerly employed as the Executive Director of the General Mission Board of Maryland / Delaware.  The Plaintiff alleged the Defendant made false statements about him that caused him to be fired from his position, caused him to be “uninvited” to speak at a large mission symposium, and posted a picture of him at the Defendant’s offices to malign him.  The trial court dismissed the case on Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine grounds but the 5th Circuit reversed the dismissal.  The only theories of recovery espoused were for intentional interference with business relationships, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  There was no employment claim made that might implicate the Ministerial Exception.  We noted on remand there might be discovery.

In McRaney v North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Inc., Order Reconsidering Quashing of Subpoena (ND Miss. 2022), the federal trial court on remand vacated its order quashing the Defendant’s subpoena to the Plaintiff’s former employer to obtain the personnel file and other documents.  The trial court did so based on the opinion of the 5th Circuit that the dismissal of the case on Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine grounds was premature.  The trial court allowed the subpoena to be reissued and allowed the former employer to respond as they might to any subpoena seeking those types of documents.

If the evidence produced in response to the subpoena, if any is produced, proves the termination of Plaintiff was, indeed, based on ecclesiastical or church disciplinary policies, it may result in dismissal of the case a second time.  It may also prove the termination of Plaintiff by the employer was caused, or not caused, by the actions of the Defendant.  Employers must be rational in their creation of termination records and not let the angst or emotion of the moment cloud the record.  The termination record should be documented under the supervision of counsel when the sensitive nature of the Plaintiff’s position, apparently as a sort of chief executive officer, seems to require an especially accurate record.

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