Sunday, August 21, 2011

Amicus Brief of Antitrust Professors in Hosana Tabor v. Equal Opportunity Commission

This blogger has signed an Amicus Brief in a case pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. The case is Hosana Tabor v. Equal Opportunity Commission, (For a summary of the case, including a link to the various briefs, including amicus briefs, in the case, go here. The opinion in the 6th Circuit that the petitioner is asking the Supreme Court to reverse, can be found here.) Professors Barak Richman of Duke Law School and Harry First of NYU, both leading scholars of antitrust law, co-authored the brief.

The petitioner in the case is a Lutheran church and elementary school that dismissed an employee who taught music and other secular subjects but who also taught daily religion classes, was a commissioned minister and also regularly led her class in prayer. The dismissed teacher claimed that the dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the EEOC intervened in support of the teacher. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the so-called ministerial exception did not apply, with the result that the plaintiff's suit could go forward on the merits. In particular, the court found it noteworthy that the teacher spent most of her workday teaching secular subjects from secular materials and could not recall bringing religious themes into her secular classes more than twice during her tenure. The court remanded the case to the district court for a determination of whether, in fact, the school had violated the ADA., and the petitioner sought review in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to answer following question:

"Whether the ministerial exception, which prohibits most employment-related lawsuits against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions, applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads student in prayer and worship."

The amicus brief advises the Court not to expand the scope of the ministerial exception in a way that would provide immunity to professional associations of clergy who engage in concerted action of the sort that produces monopoly or its consequences and is thus unreasonable and unlawful under Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Indeed, at least one professional association of clergy has claimed that horizontal concerted action by the association's members falls within the ministerial exception and is exempt from the Sherman Act. (Professor Richman summarizes the policies of this association, the Rabbinical Assembly, and why they are problematic under the Sherman Act here.) As the brief explains, such concerted action among rivals can reduce competition among clergy for particular positions and also limit the number of clergy whom individual congregations can interview and offer positions, thereby increasing the bargaining leverage of such clergy. Moreover, such conduct does not fall within the contours or rationale of the ministerial exception, which applies in the context of employer-employee relationships between, say, a church or synagogue and its minister or rabbi. Indeed, as the brief explains, limiting the exception to cases involving the employer/employee relationship would not prejudice the petitioner's case at all and would instead protect the ability of other congregations to search for and hire clergy of their choice without interference from unlawful concerted action.