Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012)

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012)



Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012)

Facts of the Case

Cheryl Perich, a schoolteacher, initiated a litigation based on violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. The school, based in Redford, Michigan retrenched her after she contracted a disability called Narcolepsy in 2004. The disease prompted the plaintiff to undergo diagnosis and treatment. Regardless of the plaintiff, receiving clarification to work again, the school had another person in her place and fired her for insubordination and disruptive behavior after the plaintiff threatened to take legal action (n.a, 2013).

Issues in the Case

The main issues that the Court focused on revolved around the status of the plaintiff as a schoolteacher. Even though Perich started her career in the school, in the position of lay teacher, she eventually earned the status of Commissioned Minister. With respect to her basis of disability discrimination after her retrenchment, the decision that the Court required to make focused on addressing the notion of Ministerial Exception in which religious organizations possess protection from employment discrimination litigations arising from ministers (Clark, 2012).

Legal Analysis & Rationale in Court’s Decision

Concerning the notion of the ministerial exception, the Court affirmed that the plaintiff, Cheryl Perich, was a minister and as such, did not possess the ability to carry out litigation against the school, which was a religious organization, due to the immunity provided by the Ministerial Exception. Furthermore, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause did not necessitate ministerial exception. Regarding the Free Exercise Clause, the Court used the precedent in Employment Division v. Smith by asserting that the neutral laws regarding general applicability do not breach the Free Exercise Clause, and as such, it is undisputable that the ADA constituted a Neutral Law of General Applicability (Corbin, 2012). Furthermore, with respect to the Establishment Clause, the Court, rejecting the decision in Jones v. Wolf surmised that there was the absence of extensive deference to pious organizations in issues of interior governance (Corbin, 2012).

Court’s Final Decision

The Supreme Court reiterated Perich’s position as a minister with respect to the Ministerial Exception. As such, the Court dismissed the EEOC’s & Perich’s litigation for damages. The holding by the Court brought into the focus of the ministerial exception, which prevented states from interfering with church autonomy. As such, the interference is a breach of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause (n.a, 2013). Additionally, the Court concluded that Perich performed her role as minister since the school confirmed her ministerial role as different from that of the lay teachers. The Court also acknowledged that Perich admitted her status as minister since she accepted the official call to religious functions based on her position.

Personal Opinion

On a personal note, the Court’s Decision regarding the case was disagreeable. With respect to Employment Division v. Smith in justifying the Free Clause, the Court surmised that Smith incorporated government directive of physical acts only, which was different in Hosanna-Tabor since it concerned government intrusion in the internal decision reached by the religious organization, which may affect the institution’s faith and mission. As such, the ruling focused on a distinction between internal and external issues. The illegalization of sacrament in Smith, according to the Court, was a physical act. Nonetheless, the act could gain the notion of an internal matter in the same manner that the firing of Perich was.


Clark, E. A. (2012, October 15). Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, 1, 2, 526-527.

Corbin, C. M. (2012, September 06). The irony of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. Northwestern University Law Review, 106, 2, 951-972.

N.a. (2013, May 14). Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2011/2011_10_553/

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