Constitutional exceptions in religous employment

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Religious entities and communities of faith and their insurance carriers can take heart in pursuing defense judgments after the U.S. Supreme Court acted swiftly and unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. _____ (2012), affirming the vitality of the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

On Jan. 12, 2012, Chief Justice Roberts issued a unanimous decision recognizing that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination suits against a religious entity by that entity’s “ministers.”

While offering significant protection for employment decisions of religious entities, the decision also leaves room for individual court discretion in applying this defense on the merits. Practitioners seeking the greatest chance of prevailing on this defense on the merits should look to the specific fact circumstances that the Supreme Court cited with approval.

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