Churches and employment law

October 5, 2011

Today the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments for Hosanna-Tabor v
EEOC
, a major case about church exemptions to employment laws.
Wendy Kaminer offers a helpful introduction:

[Employment
Division v] Smith
addressed individual practices associated with a
minority faith (practices criminalized and demonized by the war on drugs.) Hosanna-Tabor involves the governance of
mainstream religious institutions. Whether and how much that factual
distinction matters will help determine the scope of the "ministerial
exception" and the rights of hundreds of thousands of employees in
religious organizations, especially Cheryl Perich, a former teacher at
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School.

Perich taught kindergarten and
elementary school students, concentrating on secular subjects and using secular
public school texts. But she had qualified as a "called teacher,"
earning a certificate of mission into the church's "teaching ministry."
She taught a religion class 4 days a week, led her students in prayer, and
conducted chapel services twice a year -- as did other teachers who were not
"called" members of the teaching ministry.

Then, after some five years at
the school, Perich fell ill and obtained a disability leave, with a promise
that she could return to work when she got well. Months later, she was
diagnosed with narcolepsy, successfully medicated, and assured by her doctor
that she was fit to work. The school, however, had hired a replacement in her
absence and resisted her efforts to return, disputed her doctor's assertion
that she was healthy, and asked her to resign, claiming that she might endanger
her students.

Relations between Perich and
school officials broke down. She was told to leave the school when she reported
for work, and when the principal informed her that she was likely to be fired,
Perich responded that she had consulted a lawyer regarding a possible
disability discrimination claim. The school fired her, citing her allegedly
insubordinate and disruptive behavior and her threat to take legal action.

Read it all.