United States Supreme Court Recognizes "Ministerial Exception" and Bars Certain Religious Employees from Bringing Employment Discrimination Claims

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In a significant religious freedom decision, on January 11, 2012, the United States Supreme Court unanimously recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws. The “ministerial exception” had been recognized by the lower Courts of Appeals, but, until now, had not been affirmed by the Supreme Court. In its decision, the Court found that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment preclude “ministers” from asserting employment discrimination claims against their churches.

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission – No. 10-553, the Court addressed the claims of Cheryl Perich (“Perich”), a teacher at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School (the “Church”), which is a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in Redford, Michigan. Perich claimed that the Church terminated her because of her disability, narcolepsy, as well as her threat to pursue a disability discrimination claim. The Church claimed that it terminated Perich because she violated its religious doctrine by failing to resolve her conflict internally rather than initiate litigation.

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