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Supreme Court Rules that Religious Schools are Exempt from Most Employment Discrimination Claims

July 8, 2020

On July 8, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that religious schools are exempt from most employment discrimination claims, doubling down on the autonomy religious employers enjoy to choose their leaders. Under the so-called ministerial exception, religious employers are given autonomy over their employees that is not available to other employees. This decision stems from a case where a 5th-grade teacher at a religious school was terminated after developing breast cancer and seeking medical leave to undergo chemotherapy and thereafter sued the school.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court's majority opinion, and stated as follows: "The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission."

This is a major blow for employees who are employed by religious schools, as it fails to protect them from various forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation that other private and public sector employees enjoy under federal and state laws.