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Supreme Court Decisions Clarifies the Ministerial Exemption

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Elementary school teachers without minister title and significant experience qualify under the “ministerial exception” which bars the filing of discrimination charges

In 2012, in the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment barred an employment discrimination claim brought by an elementary school teacher who held the role of “Minister of Religion, Commissioned.” In 2020, the Supreme Court affirmed its position that “courts are bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions.”

In Our Lake of Guadalupe Sch. Morrissey-Berru St. James Sch. vs. Biel (July 8, 2020), the high court considered whether two elementary school teachers could bring employment discrimination claims against their Catholic school employers. Prior to arriving at the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit held that both individuals feel outside the “ministerial exception” because they did not hold the formal title of “minister” and had less religious training than the plaintiff. The Supreme Court overruled that decision and held that both elementary school teachers qualified under the “ministerial exception” and were barred from bringing an employment discrimination claim against their religious employer.

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