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U.S. Supreme Court holds that a “pastoral exception” to federal employment laws exists

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Cheryl Perich sued Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Michigan alleging that the church school violated the American with Disabilities Act by firing her.￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒ﾿￯ᄒツ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒᅠ Perich had been a teacher with a class load of primarily secular courses when she went on sick leave in 2004 for a condition known as narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder. When she tried to return to work, administrators urged her to quit, saying they already had hired a replacement for her. When she threatened to sue under the disabilities law, the school fired her, saying she had been insubordinate by threatening to go outside the church￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒ﾿￯ᄒᄁ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒタ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒルs ecclesiastical appeal procedures.

Cheryl Perich filed a complaint with the government based on laws prohibiting discrimination against Americans with disabilities, but the court ruled it had no jurisdiction over the employment decisions of religious institutions calling it a separation of church and state.

Within the opinion Supreme Court Justice Roberts wrote, ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒ﾿￯ᄒᄁ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒタ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒワThe members of a religious group put their faith in the hands of their ministers. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs.￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒ﾿￯ᄒᄁ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒタ￯﾿ᆵ￯ᄒᄒ￯ᄒン

The court stopped short of saying whether the exception would apply to nonministerial employees and left open the possibility that the Michigan Lutheran school teacher who sued might have a case under another legal argument. The court also pointedly avoided setting boundaries for who can be considered a religious employee, concluding only that Cheryl Perich fit the definition.