I work for a religious organization, can my employer discriminate against me? Texas Employment Attorney Responds

This is probably one of the most contentious and biggest question marks in employment law in this country. In 2012 there was a fight over religious organizations and health insurance plans over whether they must offer contraceptive coverage. (Remember, Georgetown law student Sarah Fluke testified before Congress and Rush Limbaugh called her a sl*t?)

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC

A less reported story was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC held that a church-owned school could discriminate against a school teacher on the basis of her physiological condition (narcolepsy). The court found that the teacher was a minister because her job duties included some religious responsibilities.

When employment law conflicted with the church’s First Amendment right to chose its teachers, the First Amendment won. The court said this was analogous to asking the Catholic Church to include women as priests to avoid sex discrimination. The court recognized that this ruling would open many doors, sometimes to uncomfortable and even undesirable results.

In 2012 the Department of Labor also began developing regulations for when religious organizations would be exempt from discrimination laws to help distinguish when discrimination laws would and would not apply. If you find yourself in a similar situation then you should talk to an employment attorney near you about your employment rights. Employment lawyers represent clients in EEOC complaints and lawsuits resulting from religious discrimination in the workplace.

Religious discrimination claims in Texas

Like most things in the law, it takes several years for the courts and regulators to shape a somewhat consistent and clear definition of the law (and even then it often evolves to deal with new problems). Questions remain open about when an employer engages in religious affairs to even bring up a Hosanna-Tabor type question and if so, what jobs receive exemption from discrimination laws. Religious organizations not only operate their houses of worship but may also operate schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, poverty relief agencies, recreation centers, libraries, parks, employment services, legal aid organizations, sports clubs, community outreach programs and an endless stream of other activities. Employees or volunteers of these groups may not always engage in religious responsibilities so Hosanna-Tabor may not apply.

On the other hand, even if a particular employee is not involved in the religious affairs of the organization as a clergy member, the job duties of that employee may be so closely related to the religious teachings of the organization that the employee falls within the exception (perhaps a doctor at a church-owned hospital chooses to perform an operation that contradicts the church’s teachings). Hosanna-Tabor also did not answer questions around what happens when non-clergy members are discriminated against. Many other unanswered questions exist.

Employment discrimination attorneys in Texas

If you work for a religious organization and believe you have suffered discrimination, you may have a right to recover. The facts of your specific situation are extremely important to determining your rights. You should speak with an employment lawyer to assess your situation. Religious discrimination lawyers in Texas help clients with these types of employment discrimination claims.

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