Religious institutions may receive exemption from Title VII under the “ministerial exception.” The United States Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects religious institutions’ decisions regarding their religious leaders. Hosanna-Tabor, 132 S.Ct. 694. Thus, religious employers can make employment decisions based on religion, gender, and other protected classes that would land a non-religious employer in a heap of trouble. However, the 1st Amendment’s protection does not extend to discipline of employees not serving any spiritual function. E.E.O.C. v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., 213 F.3d 795, 801 (4th Cir. 2000).
In order for a religious employer to escape Title VII liability for potentially discriminatory actions, “(1) the employer must be a religious institution, and (2) the employee must be a ministerial employee.” Hosanna-Tabor, 132 S.Ct. 694. For example, where a computer teacher in a Catholic school was fired for having a baby out of wedlock, the Catholic School did not enjoy the ministerial exception. Dias v. Archiocese of Cincinnati, 1:11-CV-00251. An employee is not a religious teacher merely because she serves in a religious institution.
Employees working for religious institutions, such as a Catholic school, may still have claims depending on their job duties. If these employees feel they are discriminated against because of gender, religious, or other unlawful purpose, they should contact an experienced employment attorney of their choice to determine if they qualify for Title VII protection.