Hartwig v. Albertus Magnus College

Decision Date13 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. 3:98CV51 (CFD).,3:98CV51 (CFD).
Citation93 F.Supp.2d 200
PartiesMichael HARTWIG, Plaintiff, v. ALBERTUS MAGNUS COLLEGE and Julia McNamara, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

Maureen M. Murphy, New Haven, CT, for plaintiff.

Bernard E. Jacques, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., Hartford, CT, Christopher Brigham, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., New Haven, CT, for defendant.


DRONEY, District Judge.

The plaintiff in this action seeks damages and employment reinstatement under various Connecticut common law causes of action in a seven count complaint originally filed in the Connecticut Superior Court. The defendants removed this action based on diversity of citizenship. Following removal the defendants answered the complaint and asserted affirmative defenses. Pending is the defendants' motion for summary judgment.


In 1979 the plaintiff, Michael Hartwig ("Hartwig"), was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and assigned to the diocese of Dallas, Texas. In 1987, Hartwig informed his superiors that he is homosexual. As a result, the bishop placed Hartwig on a six month leave of absence and advised him to seek counseling. Following this leave of absence, Hartwig met with the bishop to discuss the matter further. Hartwig maintains that, at that meeting, the bishop placed him on a "permanent leave of absence from the active ministry." Hartwig subsequently relocated to Connecticut.

Defendant Albertus Magnus College ("the College") is a liberal arts college in New Haven, Connecticut, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs in Columbus, Ohio The College is named after St. Albert the Great, who was born in the thirteenth century and was a member of the Dominican Order of priests. He was later named a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The College is listed as a Catholic college in the Official Catholic Directory, which is the definitive compilation of Roman Catholic institutions in the United States. The Statement of Mission in the College's Faculty Handbook provides, in relevant part:

From its founding in 1925 by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Mary of the Springs, Albertus Magnus College has placed strong emphasis on the liberal arts, preserving the long tradition of scholarly inquiry and of the search for truth that has characterized the Dominican Order for 700 years.

* * * * * *

Thus, the mission of Albertus Magnus College is to produce well prepared, capable, forward-looking, and liberally-educated men and women, fully able to work productively in a career and live enriched and enriching lives. Albertus Magnus remains faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition and to its Catholic heritage, aware of and ready to respond to the evolving needs of its own students and of society at large.

In addition, the by-laws of the College's board of trustees state, in part: "It is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to maintain, in perpetuity, the essential character of the institution as a Catholic liberal arts college with a Dominican tradition and to insure that its educational program, and the service it renders, are in harmony with this commitment and tradition." The by-laws also provide that one-fifth of the board of trustees shall be from the Dominican Congregation of St. Mary of the Springs and that certain officials of that congregation shall be members of the board.2

In 1991, Hartwig applied for a position as an associate professor in the College's Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy. He represented in his resumé that he "[t]ook permanent leave of absence from active ministry in Roman Catholic Priesthood at the end of 1987 for personal reasons" and was interviewed by members of the College faculty and administration, including the defendant Dr. Julia McNamara ("Dr.McNamara"), the president of the College.

Hartwig accepted a one year appointment as an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy and was provided with a copy of the College Faculty Handbook ("the Handbook"). The Handbook provided that the College would not discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, contained language concerning the academic freedom for teachers, and set forth procedures for reappointment of non-tenured faculty members. According to the Handbook, tenure could be conferred upon an associate professor by the Board of Trustees after the tenth year of an associate professor's employment at the College.

From 1991 through 1998 Hartwig was reappointed to one year terms. During his employment at the College, Hartwig taught a variety of courses in the traditional day, continuing education, and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies programs.3 He served as the coordinator of Peace, Justice, and Global Studies and was the Associate Dean for Continuing Education.

During the academic year 1991-1992, Hartwig introduced Donald Baker ("Baker"), whom he described as his "life partner," to faculty and members of the College administration. The parties agree that no negative comments were made, no criticism of Hartwig's sexual preference was voiced and he experienced a general acceptance by the faculty and staff of his relationship with Baker.

In June, 1997, Dr. McNamara received a copy of an article from a publication called The Wanderer.4 The article was entitled "Diocese Rotten Underbelly Exposed in Pedophile's Trial" and reported that the Diocese of Dallas had been found liable in an action involving a priest (not Hartwig) who had sexually abused a number of boys. According to the article, the priest had abused the boys because the Diocesan officials were "too liberal." Although not implicating him in the incident, the article associated Hartwig with the founder of the Dallas area gay and lesbian alliance, Donald Baker. The article stated that Hartwig and Baker now lived together in Boston and that Hartwig was "a Roman Catholic priest and former academic dean at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving [Texas]."5 The article further discussed how Hartwig had been "on the fast track" in the Roman Catholic Church and "probably would have been named a bishop had he not `married' Don Baker." The article also included the following description of Hartwig's status:

Hartwig is now a professor in the religion and philosophy department at Albertus Magnus College run by the Dominican Sisters in New Haven, Conn., where he also serves as the associate dean of continuing education and director of the masters of arts and liberal studies department.

Following her receipt of the article, Dr. McNamara met with Hartwig to discuss it. At the meeting, Hartwig read the article and protested that much of it was untrue. Dr. McNamara assured Hartwig of her support.

In August, 1997, Dr. McNamara received a copy of a second article from The Wanderer concerning the Dallas court case. In the article the anonymous author claimed to have been a seminarian at Holy Trinity Seminary while Hartwig worked there. He wrote that Hartwig had been "angered and emotionally upset" with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality. The article identified Hartwig as an "ex-priest" who taught at Albertus Magnus and who was "`married' to another man."

Dr. McNamara met with Hartwig again to discuss the second article. She assured him that she placed little faith in the article and continued to support him. She indicated, however, that pressure could be placed on the College because of Hartwig's teaching role and asked if he would be interested in teaching in a department other than Religious Studies. Hartwig indicated that he was not.

After both of the meetings, Hartwig sent memoranda to Dr. McNamara summarizing their meetings and further discussing The Wanderer articles. In addition, he sent her a third memorandum to which he attached an opinion-editorial piece ("the op-ed") he had written which had been recently published in The Dallas Morning News. In the op-ed, the plaintiff described himself as "a priest of the Dallas Diocese (now on leave)". At the conclusion of the article, a note read "Michael J. Hartwig is a former vice rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas and is now an associate professor of religion at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn." In the op-ed piece Hartwig discussed the Dallas case and expressed his "mixed feelings" about the verdict and substantial judgment that had been returned against the church.

On October 20, 1997, Dr. McNamara requested that Hartwig report to her office the following day. The meeting did not occur. However, the next day Dr. McNamara had a letter delivered to Hartwig which informed Hartwig that he was relieved of all his administrative and teaching duties because of his "publicly representing [himself] as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church." Upon receipt of the letter, Hartwig called Baker, who then called the New Haven Register newspaper and spoke with a reporter about the termination of Hartwig's employment. The reporter conducted an investigation and wrote an article for the newspaper discussing Hartwig's situation at the College.

Hartwig filed a grievance with the College protesting his termination.6 Following the faculty committee's decision rejecting the grievance, Hartwig brought this action. The complaint asserts the following causes of action: breach of contract based on the anti-discrimination, academic freedom, and reappointment provisions of the Handbook (Counts 1, 2, and 3); defamation (Count 4); libel (Count 5); tortious interference with contract (Count 6); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 7).7

The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all seven counts of the complaint. The defendants argue, inter alia, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment preclude the Court from hearing this case.

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

In a motion for summary judgment, the burden...

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