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Supreme Court to decide whether religious school teachers may sue for discrimination

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in a case over whether an employment discrimination claim can be brought against a religiously affiliated school despite the "ministerial exception." In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] and Cheryl Perich brought a claim against the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School alleging that the school had unlawfully terminated Perich in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [text] because she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. The school argues that the ADA does not apply to it because of the "ministerial exception" that allows religious organizations to give "preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion" and to "require that all applicants and employees conform to the religious tenants of such organization." Thus, the school believes that allowing the suit would infringe on its First Amendment right to choose its religious leaders. However, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] disagreed, finding [opinion, PDF] that such an approach is "too rigid." The EEOC and Perich argue that "ministerial exception" clearly applies to ministers and religious leaders but that Perich was responsible for numerous secular teaching duties and should not be considered under the exception. Perich was terminated after she went on sick leave and attempted to return to work after obtaining a release from her doctor that said she could handle her job responsibilities while under medication. When she returned to work the school did not have a job for her and requested that she resign until the end of the year. Perich refused this situation and threatened a legal suit. The school then recommended to its board that she be terminated. Perich complained to the EEOC, which brought a discrimination and retaliation suit.

Also Monday, the court denied certiorari [order list, PDF] without comment in the Troy Anthony Davis [defense website; JURIST news archive] appeal, allowing Georgia to execute Davis for a murder committed over 20 years ago. One commentator suggested [SCOTUSblog report] that justices might have believed Davis had gotten what he wanted with a federal court review of his case, and that that decision was sufficient to resolve the matter. Last August, the US Supreme Court took the rare step of granting his original writ of habeas corpus [JURIST report] after Davis had exhausted his state remedies under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [text] and instructed the district court to examine new findings of fact in the case. The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia [official website] then heard the habeas petition, but the court sided against Davis saying that he failed to prove his innocence. Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering an off-duty Savannah, Georgia, police officer on the night of August 19, 1989. According to his defense lawyers, key witnesses against Davis have recanted their testimony, and others say another person has since confessed to the killing.

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