In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court affirms the “ministerial exception” that protects religious organizations from some lawsuits invoking federal anti-discrimination laws. The Supreme Court held that two parochial school teachers, one alleging age discrimination and the other alleging that she was terminated after she told the school she had breast cancer, could not challenge their terminations in federal court because of the constitutional protection allowing religious organizations to choose who teaches the faith. Both teachers were employed under agreements that set out the school’s mission to develop and promote a Catholic School faith community; imposed commitments regarding religious instruction, worship, and personal modeling of the faith; and explained that teachers’ performance would be reviewed on those bases.
The Court held that the teachers’ claims were barred by the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., writing for the majority, said “[t]he religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission.” Justice Alito went on to say, “[j]udicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”
The key takeaway from the Court’s decision is that the ministerial exception does not apply to ministers only. The Court determined that a variety of factors are important in determining whether a particular position falls within the ministerial exception. An employee’s title is not the controlling factor. What the employee does is far more important.
You can access the order by clicking HERE. Feel free to contact the GM Employment team with any questions.