In reviewing two separate lawsuits concerning teachers at religion-based schools, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the extent that religious groups can avoid discrimination lawsuits filed against them by their employees. A legal doctrine known as the “ministerial exception” is intended to protect the freedom of religion by exempting religious institutions from anti-discrimination laws in hiring employees. In other words, due to this doctrine, an employee of a church or affiliate organization may be limited in filing a discrimination lawsuit against their employer. However, historically, there has been uncertainty and lack of clarity in determining when an employee of a religious institution may have protections provided by anti-discrimination laws.
In this instance, the Supreme Court will examine whether two Catholic schools in California are able to claim that they were protected from lawsuits filed by two teachers claiming wrongful termination and bias. One case involves an elementary school teacher who sued her employer for wrongful termination and age discrimination. The other case, filed by a teacher at a different school, involves a disability bias ruling that was appealed by the school.
“If the Court is not clear about the constitutional bounds of the ministerial exemption, it would be difficult for Congress to know what discretion it has to adjust the rights of employers and employees in these contexts,” said David B. Cruz, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
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