Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: January 11, 2012
  • Case #: 10-553
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Roberts, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Kagan, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

The "ministerial exception," which is rooted in the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, bars an employment suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her church's decision to fire her.

Respondent Cheryl Perich was a school teacher at Hosanna-Tabor, a small Lutheran school in Michigan. Hosanna-Tabor asked her to become a “called” teacher. Perich accepted the call, completed the required religious training, and was given the formal title “Minister of Religion, Commissioned.” After teaching at Hosanna-Tabor for five years, Perich developed narcolepsy and was unable to continue to work at the start of the school year of 2004. In January, 2005, Perich notified the school principal that she would be returning to work in February. The principal informed Perich that her position had already been filled and offered to pay a portion of Perich’s health insurance premiums in exchange for her resignation. Perich refused to resign and notified the principal that she had consulted an attorney and intended to assert her legal rights. Hosanna-Tabor subsequently fired Perich. The EEOC brought suit against Hosanna-Tabor, alleging that Perich had been fired in retaliation for threatening to file an ADA lawsuit. Perich intervened in the suit, seeking reinstatement and damages. The District Court granted summary judgment in Hosanna-Tabor’s favor. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded, directing the District Court to proceed on the merits of the claims.

The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit, holding that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar employment discrimination suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches. The “ministerial exception,” which is grounded in the First Amendment, precludes application of employment discrimination law to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its members. Requiring a church to retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failure to do so, infringes on the church’s First Amendment right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.

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