January 13, 2012
On January 11, 2012, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. This case presents the question whether the “ministerial exception” to federal employment discrimination statutes--an exception that generally shields religious organizations from claims of unlawful discrimination by employees who perform religious functions--applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who alleged that the termination of her employment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lower appellate court concluded that the teacher did not qualify as a “minister” and that the exception therefore provided no defense against the teacher’s lawsuit.
In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts the Supreme Court reversed, holding unanimously that the teacher did qualify as a minister and that the “ministerial exception” barred her suit challenging the church’s decision to terminate her employment. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion; Justice Alito also filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Kagan.
To discuss the case, we have Michael McConnell, a professor at Stanford Law School.