The Supreme Court delivered a blow to religious employees around the nation by holding that the “ministerial exception” under the First Amendment bars employment-discrimination claims by Catholic school teachers against their employers. In two recent cases from California jointly decided, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, No. 19-267, and St. James School v. Darryl Biel, No. 19-348, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. In one, Kristen Biel had sued under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) when the school failed to renew her contract when she had breast cancer; In the other, Agnes Morrissey-Berru sued for age discrimination when her contract had not been renewed. Both were teachers in Catholic schools in California and both were denied the opportunity to present their cases.

Ministerial Definition Expanded to Include Those Employees Who Are Not in Fact Ministers

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court effectively expanded the “ministerial exception” to include individuals employed by religious employers who are not in fact ministers or religious leaders.

The decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School expands which employees fall into the “ministerial exception” of the First Amendment. The Court clarified that what is at the core of the “ministerial exception” is if the employee performed vital religious duties. Here, the court found that educating the youth, leading youth in prayer, and instructing students about the Catholic faith was enough to be considered a vital religious duty even though they were just teachers and not ministers.

How Does This Decision Affect Employees of Religious Employers?

In no way is this case a bar to all employees who work for religious institutions in any other capacity. The “ministerial exception” still only applies to those who are “religious leaders” in some manner. Even though the court expanded that definition to include teachers it would not include many employees. The court’s holding would not apply to many employees of a religious employer such as: janitorial, information technology, maintenance, transportation, culinary, safety, etc.

Makarem & Associates Is Here For You

As employment attorneys in California, we are committed to ensuring that our clients receive the help they need and deserve in order to fight against discrimination in the workplace. We will not stand by and watch employers dismiss or fail to take action against perpetrators of discrimination or workplace harassment even if these are religious employers.

If you have been a victim of discrimination or harassment at work in California, we at Makarem & Associates are ready to step in and help you fight for your rights. With some of the best employment law attorneys in California, we will provide you with the best legal representation to help you reach the best outcome. Please reach out to us and call us at 310-312-0299 or email us at [email protected] to receive the right legal counsel and a free consultation.