101 F.3d 1012 (4th Cir. 1996), 95-2594, Chalmers v. Tulon Co. of Richmond

Docket Nº:95-2594.
Citation:101 F.3d 1012
Party Name:Charita D. CHALMERS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. TULON COMPANY OF RICHMOND, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:December 04, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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101 F.3d 1012 (4th Cir. 1996)

Charita D. CHALMERS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

TULON COMPANY OF RICHMOND, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 95-2594.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 4, 1996

Argued July 10, 1996.

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ARGUED: Richard J. Keshian, William E. Wright, Petree Stockton, Winston-Salem, NC, for Plaintiff-Appellant. David E. Nagle, Leclair Ryan, Richmond, VA, for Defendant-Appellee. ON BRIEF: Dean L. Whitford, The Rutherford Institute, Charlottesville, VA; John Fairfax Pyle, Amherst, VA, for

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Plaintiff-Appellant. Kevin D. Holden, Leclair Ryan, Richmond, VA, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before NIEMEYER, MICHAEL, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge MOTZ wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge MICHAEL joined. Judge NIEMEYER wrote a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

Charita Chalmers contends that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to her employer, Tulon Co. ("Tulon"), on her claim that Tulon failed to accommodate her religious conduct. Because Chalmers provided Tulon with no notice of her need to engage in this conduct and because, in any event, this conduct was not susceptible to accommodation, we affirm.

I.

The parties do not dispute the material facts. In stating the facts here, we draw most of them from Chalmers' complaint, J.A. 4-9, and deposition testimony, J.A. 50-90 and 98-107. Only when Chalmers did not testify to a fact do we rely on other sworn testimony. 1

Chalmers worked for Tulon from October 1988 until September 21, 1993. J.A. 5. Tulon's business involves the manufacturing of drill bits and routers used in the printed circuit board industry. J.A. 42. Tulon maintains a number of service centers throughout the United States, including a center in Richmond, Virginia where Chalmers worked. Id. During Chalmers' years at Tulon, the Richmond center employed from six to fifteen employees. J.A. 52-53, 56-57.

Chalmers began her employment as a repoint operator, J.A. 5, 53, and, after three years, was promoted to supervisor. J.A. 5, 55, 62. During her employment with Tulon, although Chalmers had some issues with her job training, she believed Tulon treated her fairly with respect to compensation, benefits, and job assignments. J.A. 54-55, 57-59. Prior to her discharge, Chalmers never felt anyone at the company discriminated against her, J.A. 55, 58, or harassed her because of her religious beliefs or practices. J.A. 65.

As repoint supervisor, Chalmers was the only management-level employee working regularly at the Richmond center. J.A. 43. Chalmers' immediate supervisor, Richard C. LaMantia, was in charge of sales throughout the eastern part of the United States but, according to Chalmers, visited Richmond only a few days every few months. J.A. 51-52. At all other times, Chalmers was responsible for the operation of the Richmond center. J.A. 43. Chalmers recognized that it was part of her supervisory responsibility to promote harmony in the workplace and set an example for her subordinates. J.A. 64.

Chalmers has been a Baptist all of her life, and in June 1984 became an evangelical Christian. J.A. 50. At that time, she accepted Christ as her personal savior and determined to go forth and do work for him. Id. As an evangelical Christian, Chalmers believes she should share the gospel and looks for opportunities to do so. J.A. 105.

Chalmers felt that LaMantia respected her, generally refraining from using profanity around her, while around other employees who did not care, "he would say whatever he wanted to say." J.A. 65. LaMantia had taken Chalmers and her husband to dinner once and she felt that she and LaMantia had a "personal relationship" and that she could talk to him. J.A. 71. Chalmers stated that "in the past we have talked about God." Id. Chalmers further testified that "starting off" she and LaMantia had discussed religion about "everytime he came to the service

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center .... maybe every three months" but "then, towards the end maybe not as frequently." J.A. 107. LaMantia never discouraged these conversations, expressed discomfort with them, or indicated that they were improper. J.A. 107. In one of these conversations, LaMantia told Chalmers that three people had approached him about accepting Christ. J.A. 72.

Two or three years after this conversation, id., Chalmers "knew it was time for [LaMantia] to accept God." J.A. 66. She believed LaMantia had told customers information about the turnaround time for a job when he knew that information was not true. J.A. 66; J.A. 70. Chalmers testified that she was "led by the Lord" to write LaMantia and tell him "there were things he needed to get right with God, and that was one thing that ... he needed to get right with him." J.A. 66-67.

Accordingly, on Labor Day, September 6, 1993, J.A. 84, Chalmers mailed the following letter to LaMantia at his home:

Dear Rich,

The reason I'm writing you is because the Lord wanted me to share somethings [sic] with you. After reading this letter you do not have to give me a call, but talk to God about everything.

One thing the Lord wants you to do is get your life right with him. The bible says in Roman 10:9vs that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. vs 10--For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. The two verse are [sic] saying for you to get right with God now.

The last thing is, you are doing somethings[sic] in your life that God is not please [sic] with and He wants you to stop. All you have to do is go to God and ask for forgiveness before it's too late.

I wrote this letter at home so if you have a problem with it you can't relate it to work.

I have to answer to God just like you do, so that's why I wrote you this letter. Please take heed before it's too late.

In his name,

Charita Chalmers

J.A. 67-68; 91-92.

Chalmers was unaware of any other Tulon employees who sent to co-workers at their homes letters regarding religious beliefs, or, indeed, any mail, other than Christmas, birthday, or congratulatory cards. J.A. 80. Chalmers acknowledged that LaMantia had never said or done anything that signaled to her that he consented to a letter like this. J.A. 71. When asked whether she knew "what Rich LaMantia's religious beliefs are," Chalmers responded that she knew "he believe[d] in God, that's about it." J.A. 74. She did not know his religious affiliation or whether he attended church regularly. J.A. 73-74. Nevertheless, Chalmers felt that she could write the above letter to LaMantia at his home because of their "personal relationship" and their conversation two or three years earlier concerning people approaching LaMantia about accepting Christ. J.A. 66, 71, 72.

On September 10, 1993 when Chalmers' letter arrived at LaMantia's home, he was out of town on Tulon business and his wife opened and read the letter in his absence. J.A. 43, 69. Mrs. LaMantia became distraught, interpreting the references to her husband's improper conduct as indicating that he was committing adultery. J.A. 69-70. In tears, she called Chalmers and asked her if LaMantia was having an affair with someone in the New Hampshire area where LaMantia supervised another Tulon facility. Id. Mrs. LaMantia explained that three years before she and LaMantia had separated because of his infidelity. Id. Chalmers told Mrs. LaMantia that she did not know about any affair because she was in the Richmond area. Id. When Mrs. LaMantia asked her what she had meant by writing that there was something in LaMantia's life that "he needed to get right with God," Chalmers explained about the turnaround time problem. J.A. 70. Mrs. LaMantia responded that she would take the letter and rip it up so LaMantia could not read it. Id. Chalmers answered, "Please don't do that, the Lord led me to send this to Rich, so let him

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read it." J.A. 70-71. The telephone conversation then ended. Id.

Mrs. LaMantia promptly telephoned her husband, interrupting a Tulon business presentation, to accuse him of infidelity. J.A. 43. LaMantia, in turn, called the Richmond office and asked to speak with Chalmers; she was in back and by the time she reached the telephone, LaMantia had hung up. J.A. 99. Chalmers then telephoned the LaMantias' home and, when she failed to reach anyone, left a message on the answering machine that she was sorry "if the letter offended" LaMantia or his wife and that she "did not mean to offend him or make him upset about the letter." J.A. 100.

LaMantia also telephoned Craig A. Faber, Vice President of Administration at Tulon. J.A. 43. LaMantia told Faber that the letter had caused him personal anguish and placed a serious strain on his marriage. Id. LaMantia informed Faber that he felt he could no longer work with Chalmers. Id. LaMantia recommended that Tulon management terminate Chalmers' employment. Id. At her deposition, Chalmers was asked what reaction she would have if one of the employees who worked for her telephoned her husband and told him she was committing adultery. J.A. 83. Chalmers pointed out that she had not telephoned anyone and had not written a letter stating that LaMantia was committing adultery, but she acknowledged that if another employee did telephone her husband with this information, it probably would affect her relationship with that co-worker. Id.

While investigating LaMantia's complaint, Faber discovered that Chalmers had sent a second letter, on the same day as she had sent the letter to LaMantia, to another Tulon employee. J.A. 43 and 49. That employee, Brenda Combs, worked as a repoint operator in...

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