The Supreme Court is back in session with a full docket for the month of October. Early this month, the Court confronted the controversial question of whether the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) applied to a school teacher at a Lutheran school. The Court heard oral arguments this week, but a decision is not expected for months.
In the case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, a parochial school teacher claimed that she was fired out of retaliation for threatening to file a formal complaint with the EEOC after her school allegedly discriminated against her on the basis of an illness.
Congress has enacted several statutes that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, nationality, religion and disability. Ordinarily, the ADA prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability or illness. However, in light of the First Amendment, courts have carved out a ministerial exemption for church employees who carry out religious duties.
In this case, the Michigan elementary school teacher taught mostly secular courses and one religion class. However, she was also a minister who often led children in prayer. The school defended its actions, claiming that the teacher was fired for failing to address her complaints within the church community, per church procedure. For this reason, the elementary school claimed that the ADA does not apply to this particular teacher.
The Court’s anticipated ruling could dramatically affect the scope of employment discrimination statutes in parochial schools and organizations. A ruling in favor of the school could leave many parochial workers without the protection of federal anti-discrimination statutes. If you or a loved one believes that you were discriminated against in the workplace, you should speak with an experienced attorney to learn about your legal rights. For questions, contact Broussard, David & Moroux at 1-888-337-2323 (toll free) or 337-233-2323 (local).