Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Church is affiliated with the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church. The employer operates a small school offering a Christ-centered education to students from kindergarten through eighth grade.?? Two types of teachers work at the school: ?called? and ?lay.? ?A teacher qualifies as ?called? by completing certain programs at a Lutheran college. ?Lay teachers are not required to be Lutheran.?? ?Lay? and ?called? teachers perform the same duties.

Cheryl Perich joined the school as a lay teacher in 1999.She later became a called teacher. In both capacities she taught mostly secular subject but taught religion classes four days a week and led the students in prayer a few minutes a day.?? She led chapel services twice a year.

In June 2004 she became ill with what eventually was diagnosed a narcolepsy. ?She sought to return to work in February 2005. ?The school told her that it had contracted with a lay teacher to fill her position and expressed doubt that she was physically able to return.?? The school offered to release her from employment.? Perich refused.

Perich reported for work in February 2005 but the school ?would ?not ?let ?her ?return.?? ?She? told ?the school that she had spoken with an attorney and would assert her legal rights.?? The school board then rescinded her ?call? and terminated her employment because she had threatened to take legal action against the church.

Perich filed a charge with the EEOC, which found probable cause that the school had retaliated against her for asserting her ADA rights.?? The EEOC filed suit on her behalf in district court. The district court granted Hosanna-Tabor?s motion for summary judgment based on the First Amendment ministerial exception to the anti- discrimination laws.? The district court concluded that the School treated Perich like a minister and therefore the court could not adjudicate her retaliation claims.

The Sixth Circuit reversed. ?The court of appeals concluded that ministerial exception was inapplicable because Perich?s duties were largely secular.?? The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the Sixth Circuit in a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Roberts.?? The Court?s essential holding was that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers. ?Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, infringes on the church?s constitutional rights to shape its own faith and mission and runs afoul of the Establishment Clause.

The court distinguished this case from Employment Div. Dep?t of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which held that the First Amendment does not relieve an individual ?of ?the ?obligation ?to ?comply? with ?a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes conduct that his religion prescribes.?? The conduct at issue in Smith was the ingestion of peyote.?? The Court reasoned the Smith case involved government regulation of outward physical acts. ?By contrast, the Hosanna-Tabor case involved governmental interference with an internal church decision.

The ?Court ?held ?that ?whether ?the ?ministerial exception applies in a particular case depends on all of the circumstances of employment.?? Here it applied because (1) Hosanna-Tabor held Perich out as ?minister; ?(2)? Perich ?held ?herself? out ?as ?a minister; and (3) Perich?s job duties reflected a role in conveying the Church?s message and carrying out its mission.

The Sixth Circuit had erred by not considering the fact that Perich was commissioned as a minister. While not dispositive, the factor was relevant. ?The Sixth Circuit had placed too much weight on the fact ?that ?lay? and ?called ?teachers ?had ?the ?same duties. ?While that factor was also relevant, it too was not dispositive. ?The Sixth Circuit also made too much of the fact that Perich spent most of her time performing secular duties.?? That factor was also relevant but could not be considered in isolation.

The Court held that an order of either reinstatement or monetary damages would penalize the church in violation of the First Amendment. ?It did not matter whether Hosanna-Tabor?s articulated reasons for dismissing Perich might have been pretextual and not based on religious doctrine.?? ?The purpose of the ministerial exception is not to safeguard a church?s decision to fire a minster only when it is made for a religious reason. ?The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful . . . is the church?s alone.?

The? Court ?determined ?that ?the? ministerial exception was an affirmative defense to an employment? discrimination? suit? that? had? to? be raised by the employer or else it was waived. ?The Court declined to consider whether the exception barred other types of suits, whether based on tort or contract law. Justice Thomas filed a separate opinion asserting that courts were required to defer to a church?s good faith understanding of who qualified as a minister.?? He feared that the Court?s multi-factor test might disadvantage religious groups whose beliefs, practices and membership are outside of the mainstream.

Justices Alito joined by Justice Kagan noted that the ?term ??minister? ?is ?essentially? a ?Protestant term? ?and? ?is? ?not? ?used? ?by?? Catholics,? ?Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. ?They suggested that ordination and title were beside the point. The key question was the function the employee performed for the religious organization.?? They believed the ministerial exception should apply to any ?employee? who leads the religious organization, conducts worship services, important? religious ?ceremonies? or ?rituals,? or serves as a messenger or teacher of faith.

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church and School v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694 (1/11/12)