Darrell VanDeusen on the Supreme Court's Decision to Recognize the "Ministerial Exemption" in Employment Discrimination Cases in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC

Darrell VanDeusen on the Supreme Court's Decision to Recognize the "Ministerial Exemption" in Employment Discrimination Cases in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC

In a decision that many are calling a resounding victory for religious organizations, the Supreme Court has unanimously decided that the First Amendment's establishment and free exercise clauses create a "ministerial exception" that bars an ADA lawsuit (and by extension all discrimination cases) brought against a religious organization by a former elementary school teacher who was a Lutheran "commissioned minister."

Excerpt:

In a decision that many are calling a resounding victory for religious organizations, the Supreme Court has unanimously decided that the First Amendment's establishment and free exercise clauses create a "ministerial exception" that bars an ADA lawsuit (and by extension all discrimination cases) brought against a religious organization by a former elementary school teacher who was a Lutheran "commissioned minister. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 2012 U.S. LEXIS 578 (Jan. 11, 2012) [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law].

Background

Cheryl Perich was a "called" teacher at the Lutheran School, and held the title "Minister of Religion, Commissioned." In addition to teaching a number of secular subjects, she taught a religion class, led students in daily prayer, and attended school-wide chapel services. Perich took leave for illness for one school year, and was eventually fired, she claimed, because of her disability and in retaliation for complaining about the perceived discrimination.

Perich filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ultimately, the EEOC took up her cause and sued on her behalf. Reversing a decision in the School's favor, the Sixth Circuit held that Perich's case should proceed. The court recognized the existence of a ministerial exception rooted in the First Amendment, but concluded that Perich did not qualify as a "minister" under that exception. The Supreme Court accepted the case for review, addressing the ministerial exception in discrimination cases for the first time. [footnotes omitted]

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