When a teacher at St. James Catholic School in Southern California requested a leave of absence to receive treatment for her breast cancer, she was subsequently fired (“Teacher with cancer can sue,” San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 19). The school said it would be unfair to students to have two teachers in one year.
A lower court held that the school had the right to fire her because she was effectively a minister. But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals correctly overruled that decision. Putting aside the fact that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the claim is ridiculous on its face since the teacher had no training in Catholic pedagogy and the school had no religious requirements for the position. Would the same school claim that an observant Jew or Muslim was a minister as well?
It’s necessary to look back to 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that the First Amendment allows religious employers to discriminate against their employees without any court review. (EEOC is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.) By doing so, the high court permitted religious schools to enjoy absolute freedom to choose their ministers. It wasn’t long after that they began to abuse the right.
For example, a Catholic school district in Montana in 2014 fired a teacher for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Ten other teachers in Catholic schools across the nation were fired for the same reason. The schools all said they had the right to do so because of ministerial exception. I realize that there is a distinct difference between becoming pregnant and developing breast cancer. But I submit that religious schools will take advantage of the ministerial exception shield.
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