Wyatt Employment Law Report


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Supreme Court Bars Suits Under the Discrimination Laws Brought on Behalf of Persons Considered “Ministers”

By Edwin S. Hopson

In a case decided January 11, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a teacher at a Lutheran School could not maintain an action under the employment discrimination laws arising out of her discharge from employment.  Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al., 565 U.S. ___, No. 10-553 (2012), stated that the “ministerial” exception to the application of such laws was grounded in the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment and should be applied to this teacher because she was a minister within the meaning of the “ministerial” exception.  This was so he reasoned because she had been “called”, trained, and functioned as a minister for at least part of the school day.  It was also noted that she had claimed a special housing allowance on her taxes based on her status as a minister. 

In reversing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Supreme Court noted that the Sixth Circuit had given too much weight to the teacher’s secular duties during the school day and the fact that she was performing many of the same duties as secular teachers in the same school who were not covered by the “ministerial” exception.