680 F.3d 1316 (11th Cir. 2012), 11-13696, Hamilton v. Southland Christian School, Inc.

Docket Nº11-13696.
Citation680 F.3d 1316
Opinion JudgeCARNES, Circuit Judge:
Party NameJarretta P. HAMILTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SOUTHLAND CHRISTIAN SCHOOL, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
AttorneyEdward Randolph Gay, Edward R. Gay, PA, Orlando, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellant. David C. Gibbs, III, Gibbs Law Firm, PA, Seminole, FL, for Defendant-Appellee.
Judge PanelBefore CARNES, MARTIN and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.
Case DateMay 16, 2012
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

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680 F.3d 1316 (11th Cir. 2012)

Jarretta P. HAMILTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 11-13696.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

May 16, 2012

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Edward Randolph Gay, Edward R. Gay, PA, Orlando, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David C. Gibbs, III, Gibbs Law Firm, PA, Seminole, FL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before CARNES, MARTIN and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

A woman of childbearing age was hired as a teacher at a small Christian school. Then she got pregnant, married, and fired. In that order. Then she filed a lawsuit. She lost on summary judgment. This is her appeal.


In January 2008, Jarretta Hamilton began teaching at Southland Christian School. Sometime in January 2009, she and her then-fiancé conceived a child. They got married the next month. On Sunday, April 5, 2009, Hamilton met with John and Julie Ennis, Southland's administrator and assistant administrator, to tell them that she was pregnant and to ask for maternity leave during the next school year. During that meeting, she admitted that she had conceived the child before getting married. Southland fired Hamilton the following Thursday, purportedly because she had sinned by engaging in premarital sex and, as John Ennis put it,

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" there are consequences for disobeying the word of God."

Hamilton filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued a right-to-sue letter on May 4, 2010. She then filed a complaint in federal district court against Southland asserting a claim of pregnancy discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a)(1)-(2), and state law claims of marital status discrimination and invasion of privacy. After discovery Southland moved for summary judgment on all three claims. The court granted Southland's motion on the pregnancy discrimination and marital status discrimination claims, and it dismissed without prejudice the invasion of privacy claim. About the pregnancy discrimination claim, the court concluded that Hamilton had not established a prima facie case because she had not produced evidence of a nonpregnant comparator who was treated differently.


Hamilton appeals only the court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Southland on her pregnancy discrimination claim, contending that she has established a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment and draw " all inferences and review[ ] all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir.2011). " Summary judgment is appropriate only if ‘ the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’ " Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)).


There is a ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws, see Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 694, 706, 181 L.Ed.2d 650 (2012), but any issue involving that exception has not been properly presented to us. Southland did raise that affirmative defense in its answer and also in its motion for summary judgment, but the district court rejected the defense. The court granted summary judgment to Southland anyway, but it did so on the ground that Hamilton had not established a prima facie case that her pregnancy was the reason Southland fired her.

Southland could have argued the ministerial exception defense to us as an alternative basis for affirming the district court's judgment in its favor by including that argument in its brief as appellee. See, e.g., Blum v. Bacon, 457 U.S. 132, 137 n. 5, 102 S.Ct. 2355, 2359 n. 5, 72 L.Ed.2d 728 (1982) (" It is well accepted, however, that without filing a cross-appeal or cross-petition, an appellee may rely upon any matter appearing in the record in support of the judgment below." ); Sanchez-Velasco v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 287 F.3d 1015, 1026 (11th Cir.2002) (" An appellee may, without cross-appealing, urge in support of a result that has been appealed by the other party any ground leading to the same result, even if that ground is inconsistent with the district court's reasoning." ).

Southland's brief mentions the ministerial exception only once, and that is when describing the district court's rulings: " The Court determined that the ministerial exception did not apply in this case." Appellee Br. 7. Southland abandoned that exception as a defense by failing to list or otherwise state it as an issue on appeal. See United States v. Jernigan, 341 F.3d 1273, 1283 n. 8 (11th Cir.2003) (" Under our caselaw, a party seeking to raise a claim or issue on appeal must plainly and prominently so indicate. Otherwise, the issue— even if properly preserved

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at trial— will be considered abandoned." ); Johnson v. Wainwright, 806 F.2d 1479, 1481 n. 2 (11th Cir.1986) (holding that an appellee's failure to raise an affirmative defense on appeal " waives any right to claim such a defense" ); cf. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp. v. Haralson, 813 F.2d 370, 373 n. 3 (11th Cir.1987) (" [I]ssues that clearly are not designated in the appellant's brief normally are deemed abandoned." ). A passing reference to an issue in a brief is not enough, and the failure to make arguments and cite authorities in support of an issue waives it. See Singh v. U.S. Att'y Gen., 561 F.3d 1275, 1278 (11th Cir.2009) (per curiam) (" [S]imply stating that an issue exists, without further argument or discussion, constitutes abandonment of that issue and precludes our considering the issue on...

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  • 2013 US Labor and Employment Horizon
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • March 12, 2013
    ...issue three opinions of interest to employers. The most significant of these decisions was Hamilton v. Southland Christian School, Inc., 680 F.3d 1316 (11th Cir. 2012). The decision confirmed a trend that could make it easier for employees to sue their employers for discrimination. The fact......
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