Cheryl Perich was a teacher at the Hosanna-Tabor Church school in Michigan. She taught mostly secular subjects, but also taught one 45 minute religious class and attended chapel with her class. She was "called" a teacher by the school, completed religious training and was a "commissioned minister" at the school. She was diagnosed with narcolepsy, and threatened to file a lawsuit against the Church under the Americans With Disabilities Act. She claimed that she was terminated in retaliation for threatening to file the lawsuit, while the school said she was terminated for insubordination and failure to follow internal dispute resolution procedures. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found a "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws, holding that the courts stay out of the way of the hiring and firing of clergy. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that "When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us...The church must be free to choose who will guide it on its way." Justice Roberts further wrote that: "The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important...But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission." The Court found that the ministerial exception is not a jurisdictional bar to a lawsuit, but an affirmative defense. The Court also made it clear that there was not a rigid formula for deciding which religious employees would qualify for the ministerial exception. Future cases will be need to be decided by the courts based on the specific facts of each situation.
Practice pointer. This lawsuit was brought on behalf of Ms. Perich by the EEOC. The Obama administration argued in support of Ms. Perich. In rejecting the EEOC's arguments, Justice Roberts also wrote that reinstating Ms. Perich "would have plainly violated the church's freedom", and "would operate as a penalty on the church for terminating an unwanted minister:" Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion, as did Justice Alito, who was joined by Justice Kagan. A copy of the entire 39 page opinion can be found at the NYTimes.