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A divided federal appeals court on Monday ruled that a Roman Catholic school violated a teacher's rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act when it fired her after she reported needing chemotherapy for her cancer -- overturning a lower court's decision exempting the school under the so-called ministerial exception. The exception exempts religious organizations from federal government scrutiny for many of their employment actions.

In this case, the Catholic school in California had asserted that its decision not to renew the contract of the fifth-grade teacher fell under the exception, and a district court judge agreed.

But two of the three judges on an appeals panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overruled that lower court ruling, saying that the ministerial exception "does not provide carte blanche to disregard antidiscrimination laws when it comes to … employees who do not serve a leadership role in the faith."