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Are Teachers Religious Workers? TO School To Find Out

Two former teachers at the Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks were let go after they refused to submit information about their own faith, including church attendance, and a reference from a pastor to their employer. Rather than settling a wrongful termination and religious discrimination case with the teachers, the school has filed a lawsuit in federal court to assert what it believes is its right to associate and hire only those who share its religious beliefs.

The United States Supreme Court held in 2012 that religious workers cannot maintain a lawsuit for employment discrimination; however, the court did not specifically define who is considered a religious worker. The lawsuit out of Thousand Oaks is an attempt to classify teachers at religious schools as religious workers who then are ineligible to sustain a workplace discrimination case.

Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara, the former teachers at the heart of the religious discrimination case have asserted that they are protected by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) from being discriminated based on religious reasons by the school.

The school, on the other hand, asserts that it is protected by the First Amendment’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of association.

It remains to be seen where the decision will align – with state law or federal law – and whether the teachers, who were fired because they were unwilling to divulge personal information about their own religious practices, will be entitled to employment protection.

Source: Examiner, “The Church takes on the Federal Government,” January 31, 2013

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