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Supreme Court Rules Job Discrimination Laws Don’t Protect Church-School Teachers

Christian Education Themed Background

This year has been a mixed bag for supporters of civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. In a surprisingly progressive decision, the Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that Title VII protects workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Unfortunately, not every Supreme Court decision goes the way it should. Just a month later, the Court seriously undercut the field of anti-discrimination laws by finding that religious schools are essentially exempt. Learn more about the Court’s decision below. If you have experienced discrimination or other employment issues at your workplace in north Texas, call a seasoned Dallas employment discrimination lawyer.

Supreme Court Finds Religious Liberty Outweighs Anti-Discrimination Protections

The case of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru involved two Catholic school elementary teachers in Los Angeles who claimed they were unjustly fired for discriminatory reasons. One teacher alleged her contract was terminated after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The other teacher alleged her contract was not renewed after she rejected her principal’s suggestion that she retire, leading her to claim age discrimination.

In 2012, the Supreme Court established a doctrine known as the “ministerial exception.” The rule bars ministers from suing churches and other religious institutions for employment discrimination. According to the Court, the exception grows out of a church’s First Amendment right to be free from government interference concerning issues of faith and doctrine. According to Justice Alito, that right extends to “the selection of the individuals who play certain key roles.” Religious institutions need to be able to freely choose their representatives and remove ministers without government interference, according to the Court.

In Our Lady, the Court was faced with deciding whether the ministerial exception extended to school teachers. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had found that the exception was limited to situations where an employee plays a “religious leadership” role. The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court found that religious teachers perform a vital religious role for religious institutions, regardless of whether they carry the title of “minister.” For that reason, religious organizations are free to make employment decisions regarding those teachers without any government intervention, including based on anti-discrimination protections at the state or federal level.

The Court’s dissent, penned by Justice Sonya Sotomayor, warned that the decision would essentially allow religious schools and other institutions to fire any employee for any reason, so long as they claimed that the employee served an “important religious role.” Teachers, nurses, in-house lawyers, media representatives, social service workers, coaches, counselors, and all other kinds of employees may have lost protection under state and federal anti-discrimination laws under the reasoning employed by the majority. Such employees may now be terminated for “reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs.”

If you have faced discrimination in the workplace in Dallas or anywhere in northern Texas, you can rely on the dedicated and talented employment discrimination attorneys at Tremain Artaza PLLC for advice and representation. Give our Texas workplace discrimination legal team a call at 469-573-0229 for a consultation on your matter today.

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