December 12, 2018

Deweese-Boyd Case to Proceed with Bifurcated Discovery

Essex County Superior Court. Creative Commons License.

By Jonathan Chandra (’19)

Judge Salim Tabit will allow the case of Margaret Deweese-Boyd v. Gordon College to continue in a bifurcated discovery process, as ordered on Thursday, Aug. 2.

This decision in the ongoing employee discrimination lawsuit was due to be delivered on July 25. Though hearing at the Essex County Superior Court in Lawrence held as scheduled, judgment was postponed temporarily. In an order issued Aug 2., Judge Tabit upheld the college’s motion for bifurcated discovery.

Discovery is a pre-trial process that involves the collection of evidence relevant to a case. Bifurcated discovery ensures that the collection of evidence be divided into two stages—in this case discovery on “first amendment and religious institution defenses” before moving onto broader issues of discrimination and contractual concerns if necessary.

The decision appears to benefit the college. Bifurcated discovery is expected to be more cost-effective, as less evidence must be collected, and will allow initial focus to remain on the ministerial exception, a legal doctrine that maintains religious institutions cannot be sued for discrimination if the employee is a “minister,” or performs religious functions. There is legal precedent for religious schools protected from employee discrimination claims from terminated teachers.

Gordon College claims that Deweese-Boyd is a minister under the ministerial exception. Deweese-Boyd disagrees, noting that she teaches a secular subject and has not undergone formal ministerial training for her position.

Dr. Deweese-Boyd is a social work professor suing Gordon College, Provost Janel Curry and President D. Michael Lindsay for unlawful discrimination. Her promotion to full professorship, upheld unanimously by the former Faculty Senate, was vetoed by upper administration last year, allegedly linked to her LGBT+ advocacy. The Senate, in an unprecedented action, collectively stepped down in April of last year, citing concerns with the disregard of shared governance by upper administration.

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