Who is a Minister?

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C, 565 U.S. 171, 188, 132 S. Ct. 694, 181 L. Ed. 2d 650 (2012), SCOTUS concretized the Ministerial Exception, which exempts religious institutions from the applicability of federal employment discrimination statutes in the face of First Amendment concerns. The Court broadened the“minister” category to include those whose work is part of the institution’s religious mission, not necessarily involving ordination. The Court did not, however, set forth specific parameters to help determine exactly who is a minister.

A recent decision in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Grussgott v. Milwaukee Jewish Day Sch. Inc., 16-CV-1245-JPS, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82010, helps clarify Hosanna Tabor’s scope. This case, unlike Hosanna Tabor, involved a Hebrew School teacher, not known as a “minister” (ordained or otherwise), but whose functions were so tightly connected to the school’s religious mission as to bring her within Hosanna Tabor’s scope. Other courts will surely follow in helping bring more fact-based clarity to this issue.

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