206 F.3d 651 (6th Cir. 2000), 98-3527, Cline v Catholic Diocese of Toledo

Docket Nº:98-3527
Citation:206 F.3d 651
Party Name:Leigh Cline, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo; Catholic Diocesan School of Toledo; St. Paul Elementary School; Herbert J. Willman, Administrator St. Paul Elementary School, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 14, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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206 F.3d 651 (6th Cir. 2000)

Leigh Cline, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Catholic Diocese of Toledo; Catholic Diocesan School of Toledo; St. Paul Elementary School; Herbert J. Willman, Administrator St. Paul Elementary School, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 98-3527

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 14, 2000

Argued: October 25, 1999

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo. No. 97-07472--James G. Carr, District Judge.

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David W. Leopold (argued and briefed), DAVID WOLFE LEOPOLD & ASSOCIATES, Cleveland, OH, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Gregory T. Lodge (argued and briefed), SHUMAKER, LOOP & KENDRICK, Toledo, OH, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: JONES, MOORE, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.


NATHANIEL R. JONES, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Leigh Cline ("Cline") brought a pregnancy discrimination suit against Defendants-Appellees, Catholic Diocese of Toledo, et al., ("St. Paul"), under Title VII and Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code. She also asserted claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel. Cline appeals the summary judgment granted by the district court in favor of St. Paul on all four claims. For the following reasons, we reverse in part and affirm in part.


St. Paul Elementary and High School employed Leigh Cline as a teacher from June 1994 until St. Paul decided not to renew her contract after the 1995-1996 year. St. Paul is a parish of the Roman Catholic Church located within the Catholic Diocese of Toledo. The defendants-appellees in this case include St. Paul Elementary School, the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, the Catholic Diocesan School of Toledo and Father Herbert J. Willman. Father Willman is responsible for all religious matters within the parish, including oversight of the parish schools.

After graduating from Bowling Green in 1993, Cline began teaching at St. Paul as an elementary substitute teacher. In June 1994, she was awarded a full-time eighth-grade teaching position for the 1994-1995 school year, assuming religion and math class duties, and also teaching high school math and coaching girls' basketball. After her first year, the school renewed Cline's teaching contract for the 1995-1996 school term and granted her request to teach the second grade. Cline's position as a second-grade teacher involved significant training and ministry in the Catholic faith. She provided daily religious instruction to students, took students to Mass on a regular basis, and prepared her second-grade students for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. Cline acknowledged that her position at St. Paul required her to "build and live Christian community," "integrate learning and faith," and "instill a sense of mission" in her students.

For each of her two years at St. Paul, Cline's employment was governed by the standard St. Paul one-year employment contract (titled the "Teacher-Minister Contract") ("Contract") as well as the "Affirmations for Employment in the Diocese of Toledo" ("the Affirmation"), both of which she signed for each year. In addition to laying out basic terms of salary, duration and other routine aspects of the

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position, the Contract incorporates the provisions of the Affirmation document as part of its terms and conditions. The Affirmation outlines the ministerial responsibilities of the "teacher/minister," including the following provisions: 1) a statement that the signer "believe[s] that the work of the Catholic Church, [its agencies] and institutions has characteristics that make it different from the work of other agencies and institutions"; 2) a statement that the signer will "work[] diligently to maintain and strengthen the Catholic Church and its members," and that "[b]y word and example, [the signer] will reflect the values of the Catholic Church;" 3) statements that the signer believes in "mutual trust" and "open communication;" and 4) a statement by the signer that she "is more than a professional." J.A. at 96. The Contract also incorporates the Teacher Handbook, which states that the mission of the school is to "instill in our children the Gospel message of Jesus Christ." J.A. at 2771. Neither the Teacher's Handbook nor the Affirmation explicitly states, nor was Leigh Cline ever expressly informed--in writing, orally or otherwise --that premarital sex comprised a violation of the terms of either the Contract or the Affirmation.

In the fall of 1995, Cline and her boyfriend (now husband) Tom Cline met with Fr. Brickner, the associate pastor of St. Paul Church, to discuss their intention to marry. The Clines married at St. Paul in February 1996. In early March, Leigh Cline informed the assistant principal, Stephen Schumm, and other St. Paul teachers that she was pregnant. Around late March or early April, Cline became visibly pregnant and began to wear maternity clothing to school. Based on his observation of Cline's pregnancy, Fr. Willman correctly concluded that she had engaged in premarital sex.2

On learning that she had engaged in premarital sex, St. Paul officials did not immediately terminate Cline. Instead, Fr. Willman considered "all options," including immediate termination. Ultimately, according to Fr. Willman, he decided that the most appropriate course of action was to permit Cline to continue teaching for the remainder of the school year, without renewing her contract after the year had finished. On May 3, 1996, Fr. Willman advised Cline in a conference that "under the circumstances," St. Paul "would not renew her contract or hire her for the next school year." According to Fr. Willman's deposition, the "circumstances" he was referring to were that "Leigh [] became pregnant before she got married." J.A. at 536. In a formal letter explaining the decision not to renew her contract, sent May 4, Fr. Willman wrote:

We expect our teachers to be good, strong role models for our children. . . . It is stated in your contract, working agreement that 'by word and example you will reflect the values of the Catholic Church.' . . . [P]arents in the community have serious concerns about a teacher who marries and is expecting a child 5 months after the wedding date. We expect teachers and staff members at St. Paul to observe the 6 month preparation time for marriage. . . . The Church does not uphold sexual intercourse outside of marriage. We consider this a breach of contract/working agreement.

J.A. at 313. Cline continued teaching at St. Paul through the end of the school year. Her child was born on July 10, 1996.

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Cline disputes some of St. Paul's evidence about the events preceding her non-renewal. She argues that when Fr. Willman informed Cline of the decision not to renew, he only stated that it was due to her pregnancy so soon after marriage; according to Cline, he did not mention premarital sex. She also presents other evidence contradicting Fr. Willman's assertion that, after discovering her pregnancy, the school decided to retain her only through the remainder of the 1995-1996 school year. In particular, Cline received a glowing Teacher Performance Evaluation on April 19,1996, nearly two months after the school concluded that she had premarital sex. In addition to noting her "successful" performance in almost all of fifteen objective criteria, Principal Schumm praised Cline for "adjust[ing] very well" to the "busy and changing year in regard to [her] classroom reassignment and personal life." J.A. at 183.3 Finally, the evaluation implied that a contract renewal would be forthcoming for the following year, concluding: "Your class of 2nd grade students is well managed and respectful. I would expect continued growth for the 1996-97 school year." J.A. at 183.

On October 11, 1996, Cline filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue, and on June 17, 1997, Cline filed her complaint in the district court claiming illegal sex and pregnancy discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code. She also brought claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel. On January 30, 1998, defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment. Finding that Cline had failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination, the court granted summary judgment on April 3, 1998. This timely appeal followed.


We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment, using the same Rule 56(c) standard as the district court. See Terry Barr Sales Agency, Inc. v. All-Lock Co., Inc., 96 F.3d 174, 178 (6th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, we assess the factual evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See National Enterprises, Inc. v. Smith, 114 F.3d 561, 563 (6th Cir. 1997). Merely alleging the existence of a factual dispute is insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion; rather, there must exist in the record a genuine issue of material fact. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986).



Title VII's prohibition on employment practices that discriminate "because of [an] individual's sex," 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), applies with all its force to employers who discriminate on...

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