The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a school teacher who was trained in theology, directed prayer services, and taught religion classes in addition to secular classes could be terminated from employment after missing work due to a disability because of the “ministerial exception” to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Perich was employed as a “called” teacher, as opposed to a “lay” teacher, at Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School (“School”). Perich mostly taught secular courses, however, she taught a religion class and led students in other religious activities. Perich developed narcolepsy and took disability leave. She attempted to return to work in February 2005 but was told that the school filled her position. Perich filed a charge with the EEOC claiming that her employment had been terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The EEOC brought suit against the School alleging that Perich had been fired in retaliation for threatening to file an ADA suit.
The Supreme Court unanimously held that there is a “ministerial exception” to the ADA because requiring a church to accept an unwanted minister interferes with the internal governance of the church thus infringing on the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution. The Court also held that Perich qualified as a “minister” despite the fact that the majority of her time was spent teaching secular courses.
The Supreme Court’s opinion can be found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-553.pdf