U.S. Supreme Court Comes Down on Side of Religious Organizations’ Right to Discriminate

It isn’t a great surprise that, when this U.S. Supreme Court jumped into the fray of cases determining when and under what circumstances a religious organization can discriminate against its employees, it favored the religious organization over the employee.

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. ___ (Jan. 11, 2012), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a judicial doctrine that lower courts have developed and entitled the “ministerial exception” prohibited an employee from bringing a claim for disability discrimination against the church. In particular, the Court held where the employer is a religious organization and the employee is a minister, there can be no claim for disability discrimination against the employer. The Court basically held that a religious organization is exempt from anti-discrimination law when it comes to its actions towards employees whom can be characterized as ministers. The Court relied upon the Free Exercise Clause, and found that this protected the actions of the church towards its ministers, regardless of the actions discriminatory intent.

Score one for religious organizations. However, it should be noted, that although this was the first time the United States Supreme Court spoke up on this issue, this holding has been already adopted by lower courts.

Jody LeWitter
April 18, 2012