College, former professor in settlement talks

Margaret DeWeese-Boyd

WENHAM — The lawyers for a former Gordon College associate professor and the Wenham Christian college told a judge on Thursday that they've hired a mediator in an effort to resolve the employment discrimination lawsuit brought against the school in 2017.

Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, of Georgetown, sued the school after she was denied a promotion to a full professorship — a decision she blamed on her public criticism of the school's stance on LGBTQ rights. 

In a decision last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected the college's argument that DeWeese-Boyd was not protected by employment discrimination laws because she performed in a "ministerial" role at the college.

The U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that under some circumstances, employees of religious schools can be considered ministers and because of that, any interference by the government in the employer-employee relationship is a violation of the First Amendment's religion clause.

The college had asked that the case be dismissed on those grounds. 

The case was being watched closely by a number of religious and academic organizations, to see whether the state's highest court would expand or constrain the definition of "minister" in the context of educational settings. The court concluded that while Gordon is a Christian college, that does not automatically mean all of its professors are ministers. 

The ruling allowed the lawsuit to go forward, and the case was scheduled for a status hearing in Lawrence Superior Court Thursday.

During that hearing, the attorneys told Judge Salim Tabit that they had hired a private mediator, retired Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein, to sit down with them on April 30 to try to work out a resolution. 

"That's great," Tabit said. 

Tabit also told the attorneys about a pilot program being offered by the Trial Court and the American College of Trial Lawyers, which will provide mediators at no cost to participants in civil litigation, in hopes of resolving the numerous cases that have become backed up due to the pandemic. "That's another option," Tabit told the lawyers. 

If an agreement is not reached on the 30th, the two sides will be back in court on May 27 for another status hearing. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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