Press Release

ADL to Supreme Court: Religious Organizations Not Exempt from Employment Discrimination Law

New York, NY, August 9, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the Court to ensure that employees of religious organizations who believe they are victims of discrimination are given an opportunity to assert their claims in court.

The case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves the right of a teacher to bring a claim against her religious employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"There is no question that a religious organization is exempt from the application of employment discrimination laws when it comes to hiring a minister, a priest, a rabbi, a religious school teacher, or anyone whose core function is obviously religious," said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director. "However, whether or not other employees of such religious organizations should be able to bring discrimination claims is a more difficult question. Such cases are very fact-specific, and the challenge for the courts is to find the right balance between the individual right of the employee to be free from discrimination and the right of the religious employer to make religion-based employment decisions."

ADL's brief asserts that every employee whose core function is non-religious should have the opportunity to have his or her day in court.

According to the brief, "the two interests of prohibiting discrimination and maintaining First Amendment guarantees can co-exist, as district courts may review such claims on the merits with certain sensitivity to First Amendment concerns…. The First Amendment cannot be used to provide religious institutions with blanket immunity. Rather, plaintiffs must have the opportunity to be heard on the merits of their claim."

ADL's amicus brief was prepared by Houston attorney Ian Scharfman.