Doe v. California Lutheran High School Association (2009)170 Cal.App.4th 828


On April 29, 2009, the California Supreme Court denied a request to review the decision of the Fourth District Appellate Court upholding a private religious schoolís right to discipline and expel any of its students who do not engage in conduct consistent with the schoolís rules and regulations. The lawsuit, entitled Doe v. California Lutheran High School Association was originally filed in the Riverside County Superior Court by two former students of California Lutheran who were suspended and then expelled for engaging in behavior contrary to the schoolís stated "Code of Conduct."

The two students brought suit against the school, asserting claims under Californiaís Unruh Act, which prohibits business establishments from discriminating against patrons on the basis of race, sex or a myriad of other characteristics. The two students asserted that they were expelled because of their perceived sexual orientation in violation of the Unruh Act.

The Riverside County Superior Court granted Summary Judgment in favor of the school, finding that it was not a "business establishment" subject to the restrictions of the Unruh Act. The Fourth District Appellate Court upheld the trial courtís ruling on or about January 26, 2009. See, Doe v. California Lutheran High School Assn. (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 828.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal recognized that a nonprofit religious school has as its overall purpose and function the inculcation of a specific set of values into its students in order to provide them with an education in conformance with its religious beliefs. As a private religious schoolís inherent purpose is the inculcation of values, and not merely providing a "paid for" education -- as the plaintiffs had suggested -- the Appellate Court found that the school could not be deemed a "business establishment" subject to the specific terms and regulations of the Unruh Act.

The Appellate Courtís decision was consistent with the California Attorney Generalís stated opinion with regard to the non-applicability of the Unruh Act to the admission policies of private religious schools along with other existing legal precedent. See, Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts (1998) 17 Cal. 4th 670.

In refusing the request to review this decision, and alternatively rejecting a request to de-publish this opinion, the California Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Courtís ruling as a correct and consistent application of existing California law. The Supreme Courtís decision essentially confirmed, as recognizable legal precedent, the express findings of the Appellate Court. As a result of this litigation, it is now clear that the provisions of the Unruh Act do not apply to the admission policies of a private religious school.

The Doe matter was handled by McKay, Graham & de Lorimier attorneys John P. McKay and Michael P. Acain.

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