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Northwestern University Law Review : Colloquy : 2011 : The Irony of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC

The Irony of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC

Caroline Mala Corbin

Editor's Note: This essay is the first in a five-part series on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, a major religion case currently pending in the Supreme Court. For the first time, the Court may squarely address the ministerial exception, a controversial doctrine that grants religious organizations immunity from employment discrimination suits by ministers, even where the discrimination is not religiously required. Our contributors, representing both sides of the scholarly debate, discuss the important doctrinal and policy implications of this landmark case.

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The question presented in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC is whether or not a schoolteacher should be considered a minister.  Although the school teacher in this case, Cheryl Perich, began her employment as a lay teacher, she soon became a called teacher with the title "commissioned minister."  She taught a religion class four times a week and led her class in daily prayers. During the bulk of her workday, however, Perich taught math, reading, English, social studies, science, gym, art, and music to third and fourth graders.

Perich claims the school retaliated against her in violation of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).  During the summer of 2004, Perich became seriously ill. She took disability leave when school started in the fall and was eventually diagnosed with narcolepsy.  In January 2005, Perich informed the school principal that her doctor had cleared her to return to work.  In response, the principal voiced concerns about the safety of students under Perich's care.  The school board then expressed its opinion that Perich would not be physically capable of returning to work and requested that she resign in exchange for assistance with her health insurance.  Perich declined the offer.  Her doctor released her to return to work on February 22, 2005, effectively ending her disability coverage.  When Perich reported for work on February 22, the school did not have a job for her.  Because the school handbook states that failure to return to work the day after an approved medical leave expires may be considered a voluntary termination, Perich refused to leave school grounds without a letter acknowledging she had appeared for work.  After Perich told the principal that she would sue for disability discrimination, she was fired.  Correspondence from the school indicated that she lost her job because of her insubordination and her threats to take legal action.  Under the ADA, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for bringing or threatening to bring a disability discrimination suit.

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Copyright 2011 Northwestern University    

Cite as: 106 Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy 96 (2011),

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