This past week, the US Supreme Court addressed a nagging question, how far does the ministerial exception to Title VII go? The problem occurs in religious schools. A teacher may teach a wide range of subjects, with only 10% of her time devoted to teaching religious subjects. Is that teacher subject to the minister exception of Title VII? In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, No. 19-267 (7/8/2020), the U.S. Supreme Court found that two fifth grade teachers were subject to the religious exception of Title VII. Therefore, they could not bring a suit for age discrimination. Both teachers taught religion as part of their duties. Both attended worship with their students. Both prayed with their students. And, both were required to model certain behavior for their students.
The Supreme Court found the Ninth Circuit erred in focusing on a rigid formula, such as the lack of clerical job titles and the lack of formal religious training for both women. The court held it did not matter if the teacher espoused the religion of the school. Too, said the higher court, the Ninth Circuit placed too much weight on whether the teachers simply taught from a book or applied “close” spiritual guidance to their students.
These two teachers were the only teachers for their fifth grade classes. That meant they taught every class for those students. The case might have turned out differently if the class was at a higher grade level and the teachers did not teach religion, at all.
See the decision here.