Supreme Court Expands Title VII

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Title VII's "Ministerial Exception" and the Religious/Moral Beliefs Exemption from the ACA's "Contraceptive Mandate"

July 10, 2020



Title VII "Ministerial Exception"
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Supreme Court ruled that in some cases, Title VII's "ministerial exception" applies to religious organizations who take adverse action against lay (i.e., not clergy) employees who play a key role in religious instruction. 

Title VII provides a "ministerial exception" to religious organizations' employment decisions. For example, the Catholic Church may employ only male priests, despite the face that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex. In Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Court extended the ministerial exception to lay employees who are not clergy or faith leaders, including teachers at private religious schools. In so ruling, the Court noted, "This does not mean that religious institutions enjoy a general immunity from secular laws, but it does protect their autonomy with respect to internal management decisions that are essential to the institution's central mission." The Court also emphasized that instead of applying a "rigid formula" with a "checklist" of factors to determine whether the ministerial exception applies, "What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does." It is not up to the courts to decide whether an employee is engaged in ministerial duties, as this may look different in different religions or in different employment settings. If an employee of a church or religious organization plays a key role in religious instruction, e.g., teachers in religious schools, the employer is entitled to the ministerial exception. 


ACA's "Contraceptive Mandate" Exemption
Under the Affordable Care Act, most covered employers are required to provide birth control free of charge, along with preventive care and screenings. However, religious organizations, such as churches, are exempt from this requirement if doing so would violate the organization's religious or moral beliefs. In Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court previously extended this right to closely held corporations with sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. 

In Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Homethe Court ruled that all employers with sincerely held religious or moral beliefs to the contrary, not just certain closely held corporations, are entitled to an exemption from the ACA's contraceptive mandate. 

If you have questions about how these two Supreme Court decisions may impact your organization or school, please contact a member of our Labor & Employment Law or Education groups for assistance. 


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