619 F.3d 1109 (9th Cir. 2010), 08-35532, Spencer v. World Vision, Inc.

Docket Nº:08-35532.
Citation:619 F.3d 1109
Opinion Judge:O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Sylvia SPENCER; Ted Youngberg; Vicki Hulse, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. WORLD VISION, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:Judith A. Lonnquist, Law Offices of Judith A. Lonnquist, P.S., Seattle, WA, argued the cause for the plaintiffs-appellants and filed the briefs. Steven T. O'Ban, Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC, Seattle, WA, argued the cause for the defendant-appellee and filed the brief. Daniel J. Ichinaga, Ellis, Li...
Judge Panel:Before DIARMUID F. O'SCANNLAIN, ANDREW J. KLEINFELD and MARSHA S. BERZON, Circuit Judges. Concurrence by Judge KLEINFELD; Dissent by Judge BERZON. KLEINFELD, Circuit Judge, concurring: BERZON, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Case Date:August 23, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 1109

619 F.3d 1109 (9th Cir. 2010)

Sylvia SPENCER; Ted Youngberg; Vicki Hulse, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

WORLD VISION, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 08-35532.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

August 23, 2010

Argued and Submitted July 8, 2009.

Judith A. Lonnquist, Law Offices of Judith A. Lonnquist, P.S., Seattle, WA, argued the cause for the plaintiffs-appellants and filed the briefs.

Steven T. O'Ban, Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC, Seattle, WA, argued the cause for the defendant-appellee and filed the brief. Daniel J. Ichinaga, Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC, Seattle, WA, was also on the brief.

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Lowell V. Sturgill, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued the cause and filed a brief on behalf of amicus curiae the United States. Gregory G. Katsas, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, and Marleigh D. Dover, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, were also on the brief.

L. Martin Nussbaum, Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons LLP, Colorado Springs, CO, filed a brief on behalf of amici curiae Christian Legal Society, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Center for Public Justice, National Association of Evangelicals, Samaritan's Purse, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Gregory S. Baylor, Christian Legal Society, Springfield, VA, was also on the brief.

Kevin H. Theriot, Alliance Defense Fund, Leawood, KS, filed a brief on behalf of amici curiae Alliance Defense Fund and Youth for Christ. Ben Bull, Alliance Defense Fund, Leawood, KS, and Joel Oster, Alliance Defense Fund, Leawood, KS, were also on the brief.

Eric Bently, Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, Colorado Springs, CO, filed a brief on behalf of amici curiae Association of Christian Schools International and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Stuart J. Lark, Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, Colorado Springs, CO, was also on the brief.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, Ricardo S. Martinez, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 2:07-cv-01551-RSM.

Before DIARMUID F. O'SCANNLAIN, ANDREW J. KLEINFELD and MARSHA S. BERZON, Circuit Judges.

Concurrence by Judge KLEINFELD; Dissent by Judge BERZON.

OPINION

O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:

We must decide whether a faith-based humanitarian organization is exempt from Title VII's prohibition against religious discrimination.

I

Silvia Spencer, Ted Youngberg, and Vicki Hulse were terminated by World Vision, Inc. (" World Vision" ) on account of their religious beliefs. Religious discrimination is, of course, barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). That bar, however, does not apply to " a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such [entity] of its activities." Id. § 2000e-1(a). World Vision's eligibility for this exemption is the issue presented in this appeal.

A

World Vision describes itself as " a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice." What began in 1950, when Dr. Robert Pierce started sending a monthly donation to a child in China, has become World Vision International (" WVI" ): a federation of eighteen independent and thirty-four semi-autonomous entities operating in countries around the world. World Vision-the party to this case-is the U.S. arm of WVI.

Spencer and Hulse had both worked for World Vision for approximately ten years prior to their dismissal. Spencer provided various services related to the upkeep and maintenance of the organization's technology and facilities, and Hulse was responsible

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for miscellaneous office tasks, such as scheduling and telephone coverage. Youngberg worked for World Vision for almost two years; his duties included coordinating shipping and facilities needs as well as scheduling.

When they were hired, Spencer, Hulse, and Youngberg (collectively, the " Employees" ) submitted required personal statements describing their " relationship with Jesus Christ." See infra p. 1125. All acknowledged their " agreement and compliance" with World Vision's Statement of Faith, Core Values, and Mission Statement. See infra pp. 1121, 1125.

In 2006, World Vision discovered that the Employees denied the deity of Jesus Christ and disavowed the doctrine of the Trinity.1 As this was incompatible with World Vision's doctrinal beliefs-specifically, the belief that " there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit" -the Employees were terminated. See infra p. 1121.

B

The Employees lodged their complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In response, World Vision filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (b)(6). On the Employees' motion, the district court converted World Vision's request into a motion for summary judgement and allowed discovery to proceed.

Ultimately, the district court granted summary judgment to World Vision, concluding that it was a religious entity within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1. Spencer v. World Vision, Inc., 570 F.Supp.2d 1279, 1280 (W.D.Wash.2008). In making this determination, the district court decided that the factors discussed in EEOC v. Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, 990 F.2d 458 (9th Cir.1993), " d[id] not provide an accurate framework ... to determine whether a religious organization that is not an educational institution is entitled to Title VII exemption." Id. at 1285. The court instead relied on the factors discussed in LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Community Center Ass'n, 503 F.3d 217 (3d Cir.2007). Id. at 1285-86. Consideration of those nine factors led the court to hold that World Vision's " purpose and character are primarily religious," and thus, the organization fell within the language of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1. Id. at 1289.

The Employees timely appealed.

II

There is no dispute that the Employees were fired for religious reasons. For purposes of this appeal,2 such termination was permissible if-and only if-World Vision is a " religious corporation, association, ... or society" under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a). Our only inquiry, therefore, is a de novo review of the district court's summary judgment that World Vision qualifies for the exemption. See Coszalter v. City of Salem, 320 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir.2003) (" Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, we must determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the [district court] correctly applied the relevant substantive law." ).3

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A

Typically, the question of whether an organization is religious for purposes of section 2000e-1 warrants little analysis. In most cases, the organization seeking the exemption is " clearly" religious, and the result is straightforward. See EEOC v. Townley Eng'g & Mfg. Co., 859 F.2d 610, 618 (9th Cir.1988). No one would dispute, for example, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a religious organization. See, e.g., Corp. of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 107 S.Ct. 2862, 97 L.Ed.2d 273 (1987).

We have twice addressed this question where the result was less than obvious. In Townley, we decided that a for-profit manufacturer of mining equipment did not qualify for the exemption. 859 F.2d at 619. We characterized our inquiry as an effort " to determine whether the ‘ general picture’ of [an] institution is primarily religious or secular." Id. at 618 n. 14 (emphasis added). In making that determination, we emphasized that " each case must turn on its own facts. All significant religious and secular characteristics must be weighed to determine whether the corporation's purpose and character are primarily religious. Only when that is the case will the corporation be able to avail itself of the exemption." Id. at 618. We also analyzed the " far from comprehensive" legislative history of section 2000e-1, speculating that when it enacted the exemption, Congress " assumed that only those institutions with extremely close ties to organized religions would be covered. Churches, and entities similar to churches, were the paradigm." Id. at 617-18 (" [T]he central function of section 702 has been to exempt churches, synagogues, and the like, and organizations closely affiliated with those entities." ). Institutions " merely ‘ affiliated’ with a religious organization" would not qualify. Id. at 617.

In Kamehameha, we reaffirmed Townley while concluding that two private educational institutions did not qualify for the section 2000e-1 exception. 990 F.2d at 460. We further explained that section 2000e-1 would be construed " narrowly," and the institution seeking the benefit of the statute would " bear the burden of proving [it is] exempt." Id. Applying Townley 's " primarily religious" test, we weighed the secular and religious characteristics of the schools, specifically referencing their (1) ownership and affiliation, (2) purpose, (3) faculty, (4) student body, (5) student activities, and (6) curriculum. Id. at 461-63.

Ours has not been the only circuit to consider scope of the section 2000e-1 exemption. In LeBoon, the Third Circuit concluded that a Jewish community center was a religious organization within the meaning of section 2000e-1. In doing so, it agreed with Townley that the proper inquiry involved a weighing of " ‘ [a]ll significant religious and secular characteristics.’ " LeBoon, 503 F.3d at 226 (alteration in original) (quoting Townley, 859 F.2d at 618). The court then...

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