669 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2012), 10-11733, Walden v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
|Citation:||669 F.3d 1277|
|Opinion Judge:||SEYMOUR, Circuit Judge:|
|Party Name:||Marcia WALDEN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, Computer Sciences Corporation, Christie Zerbe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Project Officer for Occupational Health and Preventive Services, in her individual and official capacities, L. Casey Chosewood, Director of the Office of Health and Safety at th|
|Attorney:||Brian W. Raum, Benjamin W. Bull, James A. Campbell, Alliance Defense Fund, Scottsdale, AZ, David Andrew Cortman, Alliance Defense Fund, Lawrenceville, GA, Jonathan D. Crumly, Sr., Little, Crumly & Chambliss, LLP, Marietta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Matthew M. Collette, Marleigh D. Dover, U.S. ...|
|Judge Panel:||Before TJOFLAT, WILSON and SEYMOUR,[*] Circuit Judges.|
|Case Date:||February 07, 2012|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit|
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Marcia Walden brought this action against Computer Sciences Corporation (" CSC" ), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (" CDC" ), and two CDC employees, Dr. Casey Chosewood and Christie Zerbe. Ms. Walden alleged that all defendants violated her free exercise rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (" RFRA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. She also alleged that CSC violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants on all claims. We affirm.
CDC is a federal agency based in Atlanta, Georgia, where it has over 6,000 employees. It maintains an Employee Assistance Program (" EAP" ), which provides health and wellness services to its employees.
At all times relevant to this litigation, CSC administered CDC's EAP pursuant to a contract. CSC managed and staffed the CDC clinics located in Atlanta, but CDC's approval was required for all EAP counselor positions. Under the EAP contract, CDC could request the immediate removal of an EAP employee from the program. Specifically, the contract stated:
The Contracting Officer may ... require the Contractor to immediately remove any contract employee from the on-site facility should it be determined that the individual who is being assigned to duty has been disqualified for suitability reasons, or who is found to be unfit for performing duties during their tour(s) of duty.
Rec., doc. 85-6 at 59.
In February 2006, CSC hired Ms. Walden to work as an EAP counselor at CDC. Ms. Walden agreed to be bound by the EAP Guidelines and Procedures, which require that EAP services be made available to all CDC employees located at Atlanta area facilities " regardless of the nature of their personal or organizational issues related to work or life." Id., doc. 74-7 at 3. CSC policies also required Ms. Walden to adhere to principles of inclusion and diversity.
Ms. Walden describes herself as " a devout Christian who believes that it is immoral to engage in same-sex sexual relationships." Id., doc. 1 at 1-2. She further believes that her religion prohibits her from encouraging or supporting same-sex relationships through counseling, meaning that she may not provide relationship counseling to individuals in same-sex relationships.
In July 2006, after referring a gay client to an outside counselor, Ms. Walden discussed the conflict between her religious beliefs and her job responsibilities with her supervisor, Gordon Hughes, who was also CSC's EAP director. According to Ms. Walden, Mr. Hughes stated that he was comfortable counseling gay clients, but provided no guidance with respect to how she should handle future conflicts created by her religious beliefs.
On August 21, 2007, Ms. Walden began an initial intake counseling session with a CDC employee, referred to herein as " Jane Doe." Ms. Doe told Ms. Walden she had been involved in a same-sex relationship for eighteen years, she and her partner were raising a son who was then eight years old, and her partner had forged Ms. Doe's name in order to obtain lines of credit. Ms. Doe was very upset and explained she did not know whether she could trust her partner again.
Concluding that Ms. Doe's need for same-sex relationship counseling conflicted with her religious beliefs, Ms. Walden told Ms. Doe that she could not provide her counseling because of Ms. Walden's " personal
values." Id., doc. 82 at 87. Ms. Walden explained:
I looked at her, and I told her that I could see she was in pain, and I wanted to make sure she got help. But after hearing what she had to say, based on my personal values, I recognized I was not the best counselor for her .... I also told her that I realized that my personal values would interfere with our client/therapist relationship, and that wasn't fair to her.
Id. at 86-87. Ms. Walden did not say anything about her religion or religious beliefs to Ms. Doe and referred her to a colleague for counseling.
Ms. Doe was upset by how Ms. Walden had handled the intake session and referral. She felt " judged and condemned" by Ms. Walden's explanation for why she couldn't counsel her, and she also felt that Ms. Walden's nonverbal conduct communicated disapproval of her relationship. Id., doc. 107 at 17-18. As a result, Ms. Doe contacted Mr. Hughes to complain about Ms. Walden's treatment of her.
Mr. Hughes subsequently discussed Ms. Doe's complaint with Ms. Walden. Through these discussions, Ms. Walden learned that Ms. Doe had complained about her and had called her homophobic. Ms. Walden reiterated to Mr. Hughes that she could counsel gay and lesbian individuals but her religious beliefs prohibited her from providing relationship counseling to individuals in same-sex relationships. In response, Mr. Hughes suggested that when Ms. Walden had such a conflict in the future, she could tell a client seeking same-sex relationship advice that she was inexperienced with relationship counseling, rather than stating that her personal values required her to refer the client to a colleague. Ms. Walden refused to use this approach, and told him, " I couldn't say that I don't have relationship experience, because I would be lying to the client." Id., doc. 82 at 101. Mr. Hughes made this proposal to Ms. Walden several times in subsequent discussions, but Ms. Walden continued to reject this alternative approach as dishonest. Neither she nor Mr. Hughes ever suggested other possible approaches. Through later discussions with several ministers, she ultimately decided she could perhaps tell clients like Ms. Doe, " I don't have experience in this matter," or " I'm not experienced in gay relationships." Id. at 111. But she never mentioned these alternatives to CSC. When Ms. Walden was asked in her deposition how she could have used this alternative approach, she explained:
You asked me the question of whether or not I could say whether I had experience, or— to refer someone because I wasn't an expert in a particular matter.
Most likely, the client would follow up with the question, asking me, " Well, what matter?" And then I would be led to say it, that, " It's ... because I'm not experienced in gay/lesbian relationship counseling."
Id. at 115.
Mr. Hughes notified Doug Shelton, CSC's program manager who oversaw the company's contract with CDC, about Ms. Walden's referral of Ms. Doe and Ms. Doe's complaint. Mr. Shelton then contacted Dr. Chosewood, CDC's Director of Health and Safety, and advised him that he " should be aware of a situation where Ms. Walden had told one of our CDC workers that she would not be able to counsel her because of her religious objections to the patient's issues around her same-sex relationship." Id., doc. 108 at 24. Mr. Shelton added that " the employee was quite upset about that fact." Id. Mr. Shelton assured Dr. Chosewood that CSC would investigate the matter and that he would follow up with more information.
While Dr. Chosewood understood that it might be necessary and appropriate for
counselors to make referrals due to religious conflicts, he was concerned about the manner in which Ms. Walden had stated her objections to Ms. Doe's life in connection with her referral. Dr. Chosewood told Ms. Zerbe, the CDC project officer responsible for managing the EAP contract, what had occurred. Ms. Zerbe agreed that referrals might be necessary where a counselor confronted a religiously-based conflict, but she feared that Ms. Walden's approach to referring Ms. Doe could undermine the EAP program's effectiveness. She was also upset that an individual seeking counseling " was made to feel worse" as a result of how Ms. Walden handled the situation. Id., doc. 109 at 89.
Mr. Shelton asked Jackie Byrum, a CSC employee relations specialist, to investigate the incident. During her investigation, Ms. Byrum spoke with Ms. Walden and asked her the same questions that Mr. Hughes had asked, including whether she would be willing to tell clients that her need to refer arose out of a lack of experience with relationship counseling. Ms. Walden again replied that she could not lie to her clients. Ms. Byrum told Ms. Walden, " [S]ometimes you have to set aside your religious beliefs...
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