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Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: October 5, 2011
Case #: 10-553
Court Below: 597 F.3d 769 (6th Cir. 2010)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0065p-06.pdf

Employment Law: Whether the ministerial exception to employment law litigation applies to an employee of a religious organization whose job duties include secular and religious activities.

Petitioner is an ecclesiastical corporation that operates a church and a school. Petitioner hired the private plaintiff employee (“employee”) as a “called” teacher and a “commissioned minister,” for which the employee taught secular and religious classes. “Called” teachers are selected by a vote of the Church congregation as opposed to “lay” teachers who are selected by the school board. “Called” teachers are also required to complete various religious classes, after which they are recognized as “commissioned ministers.” While the employee was on disability leave, Petitioner terminated her. The EEOC filed a claim against Petitioner for wrongful termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The District Court dismissed the EEOC’s suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction finding that the ministerial exception applied to the employee. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit applied a “primary duties test” and determined that the time the employee devoted per day to religious activity was nominal, and therefore, the ministerial exception did not apply to the employee and Petitioners were not barred from suit by the EEOC. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Petitioners argue that the Sixth Circuit’s test for determining the scope of a parochial school teacher’s duties was improper and that the test should not compare time spent to secular and religious instruction. Petitioners argue that counting minutes does not measure the importance of an individual’s religious functions and request a broader exception.