On January 11, 2012 the United States Supreme Court determined the “ministerial exception” provided by the First Amendment precluded an employment discrimination suit by a “called” teacher, Cheryl Perich, in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. As part of her job duties with Hosanna-Tabor, Perich taught a religion class four days a week and led students in prayer and devotional exercises each day. After Perich was diagnosed with narcolepsy and had an extended absence from school, she attempted to return to work with Hosanna-Tabor with a release from her doctor. In response, she was asked to leave the school and was subsequently encouraged to enter into a “peaceful release”. Perich refused and advised Hosanna-Tabor that she had consulted counsel. She was subsequently terminated for failing to resolve the dispute internally and threatening legal action contrary to the beliefs held by Hosanna-Tabor.
Although the opinion of the Court highlights many interesting issues about the separation of church and state, the opinion also highlights an important voir dire issue, jurors’ beliefs about litigation and damages. Obviously, tact and discretion are extremely important points in addressing these issues with any jury. Regardless of what party you are representing during the course of a trial, it is extremely important to determine if any of your prospective jurors have strong beliefs about litigation and damages. A failure to address this issue during voir dire could have an extreme effect on the outcome of the case.