U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS building

Image from Shutterstock.com.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to decide two cases involving the “ministerial exception” that bars courts from hearing some employment suits against religious employers.

The high court agreed to combine and hear two cases involving teachers who sued for alleged job bias after their Catholic school employers failed to renew their contracts, report SCOTUSblog, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Law360.

One teacher alleged age discrimination. The other, who has since died, alleged that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to renew her contract after she revealed that she had breast cancer.

In both cases, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco allowed the lawsuits to proceed after ruling that the teachers were secular rather than religious employees.

The cert petitions say the 9th Circuit split with the consensus of other circuits in its interpretation of a 2012 Supreme Court decision, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.

That decision held that the ministerial exception protected a Lutheran school in Michigan from a lawsuit by a teacher who was not rehired after disability leave. The teacher, Cheryl Perich, had a title of “minister of religion,” was tasked with doing her job “according to the word of God,” and had received special religious training. As a result, she was a “minister” within the meaning of the exception, and she was not entitled to sue, the Supreme Court said.

The schools in the new cases before the court are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The cases are Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel. The SCOTUSblog case pages are here and here.