7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Americans with Disabilities Act Lawsuit

On February 13, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer fired her because of her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Grussgott v. Milwaukee Jewish Day School, Inc., No. 17-2332 (7th Cir. 2/13/2018).  The defendant argued that the First Amendment's ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws, including the ADA, barred the plaintiff's lawsuit.  The district court agreed, concluding that the defendant, a Jewish day school, is a religious institution and that the role of the plaintiff as a Hebrew teacher for the school was ministerial.

The issue on appeal was whether the plaintiff was a ministerial employee.  In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted the "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws, which essentially provides that based on protections under the Constitution, religious organizations are free to hire and fire their ministerial leaders without governmental interference. The open issue subject to litigation, however, is who is a ministerial employee, and, in this case, whether the plaintiff's role as a Hebrew teacher is ministerial.  The 7th Circuit concluded that she falls under the ministerial exception as a matter of law in view of her integral role in teaching her students about Judaism and the school's motivation in hiring her, which demonstrate that her role furthered the school's religious mission.