Supreme Court Decision On Discrimination In Religious Schools

Supreme Court Decision on Discrimination in Catholic SchoolsTwo teachers from Southern California, Agnes Morrisey-Berru and Kristen Biel, sued their respective Catholic schools. The cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel combined to form one case recently brought before the Supreme Court. Agnes Morrissey-Berru was fired because she turned 65 years old. In a secular workplace, this termination is age discrimination. Kristen Biel requested paid sick in order to receive treatments for her breast cancer. Kristen Biel was denied paid sick leave which is illegal in secular institutions. Kristen Biel died during the case’s journey to the Supreme Court, but her husband continued the legal fight on her behalf. Both Agnes and Kristen taught religious subjects as well as secular subjects. These cases focused on the division of church and state. Under current employment laws, these kinds of discrimination are illegal. However, since each teacher works for a religious school, the legality of these actions change, because the government is not supposed to interfere with religious affairs.

The Law’s Separating Church from State

The first amendment includes freedom of religion. This freedom in turn grants us the separation of church and state. A former Supreme Court case established the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws for employees who perform integral parts of religious functions. This exception means that anyone who is seen to perform such functions is exempt from employment laws. Employment laws protect employees from discrimination, wrongful termination, and more when in the workplace.

The Supreme Court's Verdict Explained

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of the Catholic schools. The reasoning behind their decision is that the teachers instill faith into the students and teach them about religious practices. The Court considered these actions integral parts in religious functions. Therefore the government cannot intervene. The verdict influences many employees who work for religious institutions and strips them of their right to sue if they are discriminated against in the workplace. In the majority opinion, Justice Alito said, “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Sotomayor in the dissenting opinion which stated, “The Court reaches this result even though the teachers taught primarily secular subjects, lacked substantial religious titles and training, and were not even required to be Catholic.”

Seek Legal Assistance Today

If you have been discriminated against at work, seek legal assistance from the Law Office of Christopher Q. Davis, located in New York City. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.