Job-bias rules might not apply to religious organizations

The usual rules and laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against employees might not apply in certain cases involving religious organizations, according to a new decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case involved a teacher at a school that was run by a Lutheran church in Michigan. The teacher asked for time off so she could be treated for narcolepsy. While she was on leave, the school hired a replacement, and when the teacher tried to return to work, she was fired. She sued for disability discrimination.

But the school argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out because, if the government could pass a discrimination law that forced the church to accept an employee it didn’t want, this would violate the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court agreed that it would violate the church’s rights if the government could decide whom the church had to hire as a “minister.” And in this case, although the teacher taught secular subjects, she also had ministerial training and led students in prayer – so the court said she qualified as a “minister.”

However, the ruling only applies to employees who are ministers. Thus, while it might apply to a teacher at a religious school, it presumably wouldn’t apply to other employees, such as a school cafeteria worker.