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Germany: A hospital, which has institutional ties with the Catholic Church, may not dismiss its Catholic head physician due to his remarriage

The plaintiff is a Catholic head physician. He is employed by the defendant, who is operating several hospitals and is institutionally affiliated with the Catholic Church. The employment contract was concluded on the basis of the general ecclesiastical employment regulations. According to these, concluding a marriage that is considered invalid according to the Church’s understanding of faith and legal order is, among other things, a serious offence of loyalty that can justify the termination of the employment.

The plaintiff was initially married according to Catholic tradition. After he got divorced, he got married a second time in 2008. For this reason, the hospital dismissed the plaintiff, who went to court against this termination. The Federal Labor Court submitted the case to the European Court of Justice and now issued its final ruling in February 2019, which held the termination invalid.

The Federal Labor Court ruled that neither conduct-related reasons, nor personal grounds, justify the plaintiff’s dismissal. The remarriage did not constitute a breach of an effectively agreed duty of loyalty. Likewise, the employer’s legitimate expectation of loyalty was not violated. The provision in the ecclesiastical employment regulations that not living in an ecclesiastically recognized marriage shall constitute a serious breach of loyalty is invalid. The plaintiff is disadvantaged through this provision compared to non-Catholic employees, because of his religious affiliation. Such disadvantageous treatment is not justified here. The duty to live in an ecclesiastically recognized marriage was neither necessary in regard to the plaintiff’s profession itself nor an essential requirement considering the nature of the profession as head physician.