This morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC et al.
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court while Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion as did Justice Alito, which Justice Kagan joined.
The question before the Court was whether the ministerial exception to employment law litigation applies to an employee of a religious organization whose job duties include secular and religious activities.
The Court held that the 6th Cir. made three errors and that Perich was a minister for the purposes of the ministerial exception. Those three errors were (1) not seeing relevance in the fact that Perich was a commissioned minister; (2) giving too much weight to the fact that lay teachers performed the same religious duties as Perich; and (3) placing too much emphasis on Perich's secular duties.
The Court stated that “What matters in the present case is that Hosanna-Tabor believes that the religious function that respondent performed made it essential that she abide by the doctrine of internal dispute resolution; and the civil courts are in no position to second-guess that assessment. This conclusion rests not on respondent’s ordination status or her formal title, but rather on her functional status as the type of employee that a church must be free to appoint or dismiss in order to exercise the religious liberty that the First Amendment guarantees.”Read the full case here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-553.pdfFor our prior blog entry on this case read here.
Today, October 5, 2011, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments that may change what role courts can play in the hiring and firing decisions of religious institutions. The question before the Court is whether the ministerial exception to employment law litigation applies to an employee of a religious organization whose job duties include secular and religious activities in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case is based on an employment discrimination and retaliation action brought by a teacher at a religious school claiming violations of the ADA. The employer, Hosanna-Tabor, operates a church and school. It hired the employee as a “called” teacher to teach both secular and religious classes. “Called” teachers are voted into the position by the church congregation and are required to complete various religious classes, after which they are recognized as “commissioned ministers.” While the employee was on disability leave, Hosanna-Tabor terminated her. The EEOC filed a claim against Hosanna-Tabor for wrongful termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer based on the "ministerial exception." On appeal, the Sixth Circuit vacated that decision, applying a “primary duties test.” The 6th Circuit determined that the time the employee devoted each day to religious activity was nominal, so the ministerial exception did not apply to the employee and, therefore, the suit was not barred. EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Church & School, 597 F.3d 769 (6th Cir. 2010). The 6th Cir. Opinion can be found here: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0065p-06.pdf Appealing to the Supreme Court, the employer argued that the 6th Circuit’s test was improper - that the test should not compare time spent in secular and religious instruction because those minutes do not measure the importance of an individual’s religious functions and request a broader exception.