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Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC

Supreme Court of the United States

October 5, 2011, Argued; January 11, 2012, Decided

No. 10-553

Opinion

 [*176]  [**699]   Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

Certain employment discrimination laws authorize employees who have been wrongfully terminated to sue their employers for reinstatement and damages. The question presented is whether the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar such an action when  [*177]  the employer is a religious group and the employee is one of the group's ministers.

Petitioner Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School is a member congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the second largest Lutheran denomination in America. Hosanna-Tabor operated a small school in Redford, Michigan, offering a "Christ—centered education" to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. 582 F. Supp. 2d 881, 884 (ED Mich. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Synod classifies teachers into two categories: "called" and "lay." "Called" teachers are regarded as having been called to their vocation by God through a congregation. To be eligible to receive a call from a congregation, a teacher must satisfy certain academic requirements. One way of doing so is by completing a "colloquy"  [****11] program at a Lutheran college or university. The program requires candidates to take eight courses of theological study, obtain the endorsement of their local Synod district, and pass an oral examination by a faculty committee. A teacher who meets these requirements may be called by a congregation. Once called, a teacher receives the formal title "Minister of Religion, Commissioned." App. 42, 48. A commissioned minister serves for an open-ended term; at Hosanna-Tabor, a call could be rescinded only for cause and by a supermajority vote of the congregation.

 [***657]  "Lay" or "contract" teachers, by contrast, are not required to be trained by the Synod or even to be Lutheran. At Hosanna-Tabor, they were appointed by the  [**700]  school board, without a vote of the congregation, to one-year renewable terms. Although teachers at the school generally performed the same duties regardless of whether they were lay or called, lay teachers were hired only when called teachers were unavailable.

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565 U.S. 171 *; 132 S. Ct. 694 **; 181 L. Ed. 2d 650 ***; 2012 U.S. LEXIS 578 ****; 80 U.S.L.W. 4056; 114 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 129; 95 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P44,385; 25 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 1057; 23 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 46; 2012 WL 75047

HOSANNA-TABOR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH AND SCHOOL, Petitioner v. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, et al.

Prior History:  [****1] CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch., 597 F.3d 769, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 4891 (6th Cir. Mich., 2010)

Disposition: Reversed.

CORE TERMS

Church, religious, ministerial, teacher, religion, religious group, congregation, secular, ecclesiastical, commissioned, functions, teaching, mission, religious organization, termination, ordination, employees, ministry, rights, select, fired, appoint, matters, message, worship, employment discrimination, retaliation, election, religious doctrine, civil court

Labor & Employment Law, Retaliation, Statutory Application, Americans With Disabilities Act, Disability Discrimination, Scope & Definitions, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Religion, Establishment of Religion, Free Exercise of Religion, Business & Corporate Compliance, Title VII Discrimination, Employers, Discrimination