Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (U.S. Supreme Court, 2011)

This case concerns the scope and procedural treatment of a constitutional exception to employment discrimination laws — called the “ministerial exception” — for houses of worship and other religious institutions. That exception, grounded in the First Amendment, allows religious institutions to discriminate in the hiring of clergy, religious school teachers, and others engaged in core religious functions. However, ADL has taken the position that it should not apply to employees of such religious institutions who are not engaged in core religious functions; those employees should be covered by basic anti-discrimination laws. This case involves an employee who falls in between — a teacher of secular subjects in a religious school who also engages in some limited religious activities. ADL’s brief, filed in support of respondents, argues that the exception should be treated as an “affirmative defense.” As a result, an employee would have an opportunity to make her case that she should be covered by anti-discrimination laws, and not have her claims immediately dismissed because she works for a religious institution. The ultimate burden would then be on the employer to prove that the ministerial exception applies.