Ministerial Exception to Title VIIClient Alert
On July 8, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision holding that religious institutions, such as churches and religion-based schools, are shielded from employment discrimination lawsuits — including claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In doing so, the Court decided in favor of two Catholic schools facing legal discrimination claims from former teachers who alleged wrongful termination from their employment for age and disability.
The cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, concern the ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws which protect religious employers from certain lawsuits brought by employees. The exception, arising from protections under the First Amendment, bars the government from interfering with religious institutions’ hiring and firing of clergy.
The ruling ultimately broadens the ministerial exception to Title VII by holding that school teachers who perform a religious role in the course of their employment fall within a ministerial exception from civil rights protections afforded to other employees. To be under the exception, the individual does not need to be ordained and religion duties need only to make up a small portion of their overall responsibilities.
Here, the expanded ministerial exemption means that employees at religious institutions who perform any religious role will no longer be able to sue for sexual harassment, equal pay, and other civil rights protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
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