Jane Ann Himsel
January 13 2012
In EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School, the United States Supreme Court approved a "ministerial exception" to federal anti-discriminations laws. The fact-specific opinion answers some questions, but leaves others – including the exact parameters of the exception – for future litigation.
Ministerial Exception Before Hosanna-Tabor
Both the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contain exemptions that entitle religious institutions to discriminate on the basis of religion, but they do not entitle such institutions to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, disability, or any other legally protected category. Thus, when an employee of a religious organization sues his or her employer, alleging discrimination because of something other than religion, the first issue to resolve is whether the plaintiff fits within the First-Amendment-based "ministerial exception" originally articulated in McClure v. Salvation Army.1 Under this court-made doctrine, religious organizations must follow antidiscrimination laws with respect to their non-ministerial employees.
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