The U.S. Supreme Court started its 2011-12 Term on October 3, 2011. On October 5, it will hear oral argument on a case involving the intersection of disability law and religion. A teacher at a Lutheran school took a medical leave of absence, expecting to return to work when cleared by her physicians. Instead, the church school replaced her for the rest of the school year and terminated her when she complained. The issue before the Court is whether the fact that the school is a religious school prevents enforcement of some or all of the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against it.
Since the Court has not previously addressed the intersection of religion and disability law, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the case. The Court could reach any number of possible conclusions, from determining that the school is not covered by the ADA, to determining that the school is covered by the ADA to the extent that the employee at issue is not fulfilling the function of a minister, to determining that there is no exemption arising from the fact that the school has a religious affiliation. Alternatively, the Court could conclude that although the provisions of the ADA that protect from discrimination on the basis of a disability don’t apply to a religious institution, the protections of the ADA’s anti-retaliation provisions do apply.
Stay tuned, as a decision in the case is expected to be issued by July 2012.