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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Disability Discrimination Suit By Narcoleptic Teacher Barred

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against a narcoleptic Lutheran school teacher who claimed retaliation when the church school refused to rehire her following a medical / disability leave.

The court found that the school could avoid liability by hiding behind the "ministerial exception" to employment employment discrimination , which are grounded in the First Amendment's religion clauses.

The religious school had fired the teacher for insubordination after she reported for work even though administrators said they would not rehire her in the middle of the school year. The teacher qualified as a "minister" and the Constitution barred the state from influencing a church's selection of such personnel.

"By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the free exercise clause, which protects a religious group's right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments," the court wrote. "According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the establishment clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions."

The court found that the teacher had the title of "minister of religion," was tasked with doing her job "according to the word of God," and had received special religious training in a formal commissioning process. "Perich's job duties reflected a role in conveying the church's message and carrying out its mission," according to the court opinion.

The court says the ruling was confined the facts of the case-a fired minister who could not sue for employment discrimination because of the ministerial exception. The court said, "We express no view on whether the exception bars other types of suits, including actions by employees alleging breach of contract or tortious conduct by their religious employers."

The case is Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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