The Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII do not apply to churches or religious institutions. But, what happens when the church operates a secular activity, such as a school? It depends. The church can require that teachers conform to particular church doctrine. As this decision explains, however, much depends on whether the teacher’s duties are ministerial, like a minister, or secular. See EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. At the Hosanna school, they had what they referred to as "called" teachers. Called teachers were expected to perform some 45 minutes of religious instruction out of a seven hour work day. Called teachers were full-time. The contract teachers were not always full-time. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (federal court) found the 45 minutes was too little time to qualify for the ministerial exception to the ADA.
The plaintiff was a teacher ho returned to work from leave related to her disability. The school then fired her when she threatened to take legal action. This alleged retaliation, held the Sixth Circuit, was not barred by the ministerial exception. The teacher, even at a religious school, had the right to protection for her anti-discriminatory activity.
What probably made things difficult for the school was that they had "called" teachers and contract teachers. Called teachers had to conform to church doctrine, while contract teachers did not. Yet, their duties were virtually identical. Both taught religious education. Both types of teachers performed essentially the same duties. So, the school could not sincerely argue that called teachers performed ministerial duties often enough to fit the ministerial definition.
As Law Professor points out, the school only attempted at appeal to claim that the teacher was fired for reasons related to church doctrine. Anytime an argument first appears on appeal, it looks suspicious. By that point, it was too late, said the court. A new approach to evidence so late appears less than sincere.