High court to decide if teacher is religious or secular worker

Monday, March 28, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has said it will decide whether a teacher at a church-run school is a religious or secular worker when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The high court today agreed to hear an appeal from Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich.

Cheryl Perich, a teacher and commissioned minister, got sick in 2004 but tried to return to work from disability leave despite being diagnosed with narcolepsy. She taught third- and fourth- graders.

The school said she couldn’t return because they had hired a substitute for that year. School officials fired her after she showed up anyway and threatened to sue to get her job back.

Perich complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the church.

The church wanted the case thrown out. Courts have recognized a “ministerial exception” to the ADA which prevents government involvement in the employee-employer relationship between churches and ministerial employees.

But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said Perich’s job as a teacher was secular, not religious, so the exception blocking the lawsuit didn’t count. The church wants that decision overturned.

The Supreme Court is to hear arguments later this year in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 10-553.

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