The United States Supreme Court recently relaxed the standard for religious employers to satisfy the ministerial exception barring employment discrimination suits in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berry. The ministerial exception allows religious organizations to make employment decisions based on the organization’s religious mission regardless of potential discrimination and without interference from the courts or EEOC.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School, two religious employers invoked the ministerial exception to bar employment discrimination claims of age discrimination and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) brought by teachers who were terminated for poor performance. Both teachers taught religious classes and prepared their students to participate in faith-based activities, but they were not ordained ministers or members of a religious order. The Supreme Court held that whether faculty members were referred to as “minister” or whether they personally practiced the respective faith of their employers did not affect the availability of the ministerial exception. The Supreme Court held that the courts are not permitted to interfere with a religious organization’s method of shaping its religious community. Therefore, the courts must defer to the organization’s good-faith assessment regarding which community members are considered ministers in providing services related to the faith.
Under Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the qualifying factors for the ministerial exception depend upon individual circumstances to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The Court declared that when a religious organization takes employment action concerning employees who serve its religious mission or are entrusted with the responsibility of transmitting the faith, the employer may, in good-faith, invoke the ministerial exception as a bar to employment discrimination suits.
If you have any questions about the implications of this decision, reach out to Chuck Dunlay or your regular MVP Attorney
Disclaimer and warning: This information was published by McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A., and is to be used only for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. This is not inclusive of all exceptions and requirements which may apply to any individual claim. It is imperative to promptly obtain legal advice to determine the rights, obligations and options of a specific situation.