Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York, 071417 FED2, 16-1271

Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Attorney:Michael David Diederich, Jr., Stony Point, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Eric C. Rassbach (Lori Halstead Windham, Daniel H. Blomberg; James P. McCabe, Roderick J. Cassidy, Archdiocese of New York, New York, NY; Kenneth A. Novikoff, Barry I. Levy, Rivkin Radler LLP, Uniondale, NY, on the brief), Th...
Judge Panel:Before: Sack and Lohier, Circuit Judges, and Woods, District Judge.
Opinion Judge:Sack, Circuit Judge
Party Name:Joanne Fratello, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Archdiocese of New York, St. Anthony's Shrine Church, and St. Anthony's School, Defendants-Appellees[*]
Case Date:July 14, 2017
Docket Nº:16-1271
 
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Joanne Fratello, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Archdiocese of New York, St. Anthony's Shrine Church, and St. Anthony's School, Defendants-Appellees[*]

No. 16-1271

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 14, 2017

          Argued: March 7, 2017

         The plaintiff is a former principal of a Roman Catholic school who claims that she was terminated from that position on the basis of unlawful gender discrimination and retaliation. The sole question on appeal is whether the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Cathy Seibel, Judge) erred in awarding the defendants summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs employment-discrimination claims are barred by the "ministerial exception/ a doctrine based on the First Amendment that precludes such claims by "ministers" against the religious groups that employ them. We conclude that the plaintiffs claims are barred because she is a minister within the meaning of the exception. Although her formal title was not inherently religious, the record reflects that, as part of her job responsibilities, she held herself out as a spiritual leader of the school and performed many religious functions to advance its religious mission. Accordingly, the district court's judgment is:

          Michael David Diederich, Jr., Stony Point, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Eric C. Rassbach (Lori Halstead Windham, Daniel H. Blomberg; James P. McCabe, Roderick J. Cassidy, Archdiocese of New York, New York, NY; Kenneth A. Novikoff, Barry I. Levy, Rivkin Radler LLP, Uniondale, NY, on the brief), The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C., for Defendants-Appellees.

          Leslie Griffin, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, Las Vegas, NV (on the brief), for amici curiae Call to Action, DignityUSA, FutureChurch, The National Coalition of American Nuns, New Ways Ministry, and Voice of the Faithful.

          Stephen Bergstein, Bergsten & Ullrich, LLP, New Paltz, NY (on the brief), for amicus curiae National Employment Lawyers Association/New York.

          Victoria Dorfman, Todd Geremia, Lauren Pardee Ruben, Jones Day, New York, NY (on the brief), for amici curiae Douglas Laycock, Michael W. McConnell, Thomas C. Berg, Carl H. Esbeck, Richard W. Garnett, Paul Horwitz, and John D. Inazu.

          Paul J. Zidlicky, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, D.C. (on the brief), for amici curiae Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles and Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

          Erik W. Stanley, Jeremiah Galus, Alliance Defending Freedom, Scottsdale, AZ (on the brief), for amicus curiae Orthodox Church in America.

          Before: Sack and Lohier, Circuit Judges, and Woods, District Judge. [**]

          Sack, Circuit Judge

         Plaintiff-appellant Joanne Fratello, former principal of a Roman Catholic school, alleges that she was terminated from that position on the basis of unlawful gender discrimination and retaliation. The defendants-the school, the church, and the archdiocese-moved for summary judgment on the ground that these claims are barred by the "ministerial exception, " a doctrine that precludes, on First Amendment grounds, employment-discrimination claims by "ministers" against the religious organizations that employ or formerly employed them. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Cathy Seibel, Judge) awarded the defendants summary judgment on that basis. The sole question on appeal is whether Fratello is a "minister" within the meaning of the exception, a conclusion that would preclude her employment-discrimination claims against the defendants.

         Although we have previously recognized a ministerial exception for employment-discrimination claims, this is our first occasion to address the doctrine since the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171, 188 (2012) (recognizing a ministerial exception for employment-discrimination claims). In light of that decision, we conclude that in determining whether the ministerial exception bars an employment-discrimination claim against a religious organization, the only question is whether the employee qualifies as a "minister-within the meaning of the exception. See id. at 190-91. In this regard, Hosanna-Tabor instructs us to assess a broad array of relevant "considerations, " including but not limited to (1) the employee's "formal title, " (2) "the substance reflected in that title, " (3) the employee's "use of th[e] title, " and (4) "the important religious functions she performed." Id. at 192.

         Applying these principles here, we conclude that the ministerial exception bars Fratello's employment-discrimination claims because in her role as principal she was a minister within the meaning of the exception. Although her formal title was not inherently religious, we think that the record clearly establishes that she held herself out as a spiritual leader of the school, and that she performed many significant religious functions to advance its religious mission. She was thus a "minister" for purposes of the exception.

         BACKGROUND

         Fratello was employed by St. Anthony's School (the "School"), a Roman Catholic elementary school located in Nanuet, New York. She served as the School's principal from 2007 until 2011, when the School declined to renew her contract. She claims employment discrimination by the School, St. Anthony's Shrine Church (the "Church"), and the Archdiocese of New York (the "Archdiocese"), alleging that her employment was terminated on the basis of gender discrimination and in retaliation for her reporting the alleged discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and New York State Executive Law § 296. The defendants argue as an affirmative defense that the ministerial exception bars these claims.

         A. Mission of Archdiocese Schools

         The Archdiocese is a constituent entity of the Roman Catholic Church covering ten counties in southern New York.1 It is led by an Archbishop, currently Timothy Cardinal Dolan. According to the Administrative Manual for its schools (the "Manual"), the Archdiocese has for more than two centuries provided elementary schools for "ethnically and economically diverse student population[s] in urban and suburban settings." Manual, Chapter I: Goals, Mission and Aim of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese, at App'x at 121.

         The Manual sets forth the principles on which the School and others within the Archdiocese are to operate.[2] According to the Manual, the "foundation and mission" of these schools is "formation in the faith, for the lived experience of Gospel values and for the preservation of Catholic culture." Id., at App'x at 122. They seek to train students "to be disciples of Jesus Christ who will live [by] their faith and provide intelligent, creative, and generous service to the human community." Id., at App'x at 121.3 The schools are told to advance their mission through, among other things, the "explicit study of the Catholic faith." Id., at App'x at 121; see also id. ¶ 104, at App'x at 123 ("Gospel teaching . . . is the fundamental element in the educative process . . . ."). Indeed, religion is taught in Archdiocese schools at every grade level, through eighth grade, as a distinct class treated administratively in the same manner as those on other academic subjects.

         The Manual states that the Cardinal Archbishop is "[u]ltimate[ly] responsib[le]" for meeting these goals. Id. ¶ 200, at App'x at 125. He "delegates responsibility for representing him in administrative and educational matters to the Secretary for Education and the Superintendent of Schools." Id. Specific local schools are entrusted to the Parish Pastor, who "delegates the immediate direction of the school and its instructional program to the principal." Id. ¶ 300, at App'x at 128.

          B. Principal's Role

         The Manual begins with a cover letter from Edward Cardinal Egan (the late former Archbishop) to principals of Archdiocese schools. It describes "principals in the [Archdiocese] schools" as "having accepted the vocation and challenge of leadership in Catholic education." Cover Letter from Edward Cardinal Egan (Dec. 2006), at App'x at 110. It further states that (1) the "principals . . . are providing splendid leadership to [] teachers and staff and excellent academic and spiritual formation to [] studentsʺ; and (2) principals "must fulfill" "administrative tasks . . . providing the structure needed to carry out the vital work of Catholic education . . . infused with the Catholic Faith and values that are so needed by the young people who come to [Archdiocese schools]." Id.

         The Manual also explicates the principal's job description: "The principal is the Catholic leader and the ...

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