United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR
PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. 10) AND DISMISSING
PLAINTIFF'S REMAINING STATE-LAW CLAIM WITHOUT
A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for
partial summary judgment (Dkt. 10). The issues have been
fully briefed, and a hearing was held on September 8, 2016.
Defendants seek a ruling that, as a matter of law, Plaintiff
is barred from asserting federal and state employment law
claims against Defendants because she falls within the First
Amendment's ministerial exception, as set forth in
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v.
E.E.O.C., 132 S.Ct. 694 (2012). For the reasons
explained below, the Court grants Defendants' motion and
dismisses the remaining state-law defamation claim without
began her employment with Defendants St. Regis Parish and St.
Regis Elementary School and Academy (collectively, “St.
Regis”) in August 2006. Compl. ¶ 14 (Dkt. 1).
Plaintiff was initially employed by St. Regis as a junior
kindergarten teacher, but was eventually assigned to teach
first grade prior to the 2012-2013 school year. Id.
¶ 15-16. Throughout Plaintiff's employment with St.
Regis, she worked under a succession of yearly written
employment contracts. Id. ¶ 17.
12, 2014, Plaintiff and St. Regis entered into a written
employment contract for the 2014-2015 school year.
Id. ¶ 20. The contract stated that
Plaintiff's duties consisted of teaching in St.
Regis's facilities and performing other duties that
assist St. Regis “in fulfilling its mission of
providing a Catholic education for its students.” Empl.
Agreement, Ex. A to Def. Mot., at 1 (Dkt. 10-2). The contract
also required Plaintiff “not to engage in, nor to
endorse, publicly, any actions or beliefs contrary to the
teaching and standards of the Roman Catholic faith and
morality and conscientiously . . . provide a Catholic role
model for all students.” Id.
description for pre-kindergarten through first grade teachers
provides more information regarding Plaintiff's former
role with St. Regis. It states that the teachers aid
“students in Christian formation by exemplifying
Catholic living, both in and out of the classroom.” Job
Description, Ex. G to Def. Mot., at 2 (cm/ecf page) (Dkt.
10-8). It further explains that, in light of the fact that
“Catholic schools educate their students to promote the
kingdom of God, it is important that all teachers are role
models for students, exemplifying Catholic teachings and
values in their lives and in their actions.”
Id. In addition to teaching the assigned subjects
and grading work, teachers are to lead daily prayer,
participate in school liturgies, and plan all-school
liturgies as requested. Id.
the section entitled “Job Qualifications, ” the
description states that the teacher must be a practicing
Catholic, possess a current teaching certification issued by
the State of Michigan, a Bachelor's degree in education,
and an early childhood endorsement for pre-kindergarten.
Id. Teachers are also required to adhere to the Code
of Ethical Conduct and complete background checks and
safe-environment training prior to employment. Id.
While the job description does not contain a requirement for
prior religious training, the evaluation form for teachers at
St. Regis contains a section regarding whether the teacher
had completed her Catechist certification, and, if not,
whether the teacher is working towards receiving her
certification. Teacher Action Plan and Appraisal for
Professional Growth, Ex. H to Def. Mot., at 1 (Dkt. 10-9). In
addition, the bottom of a document entitled “2011-2012
Recommended Lay Teacher's Salary Scale” states that
“[a]ll Principals & teachers employed in Catholic
Schools should be certified Catechists within 12 months form
[sic] date of hire. If certification is obtained within 12
months from date of hire a one time bonus of $500 will be
paid out.” Salary Schedule, Ex. 2 to Pl. Resp., at 2
(cm/ecf page) (Dkt. 14-3).
practice, Plaintiff described her religious duties at St.
Regis as being minimal. Plaintiff stated that she was
required to lead a morning prayer and to teach religion for
20 to 30 minutes per day. Pl. Resp. at 23. Plaintiff stated
that first grade teachers were also required to escort their
students to a weekly school Mass. and to supervise the
students during the Mass. Id. at 23-24.
end of the 2014-2015 school year, Defendant Denise Ball, the
principal at St. Regis, informed Plaintiff that her
employment with St. Regis was being terminated. Compl.
¶¶ 21, 23. Ball told Plaintiff that she had decided
to end Plaintiff's employment because St. Regis was
moving in a “new direction.” Id. ¶
24. At the time of her termination, Plaintiff was 53 years
old. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff alleges that she was
subsequently replaced with a “significantly younger
employee.” Id. ¶ 25.
filed the instant action asserting claims for age
discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
(“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623, et seq.
and the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”),
Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2101, et seq.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
must grant “summary judgment 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.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “In making this determination, the
court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in
its favor.” U.S. S.E.C. v. Sierra Brokerage Servs.,
Inc., 712 F.3d 321, 327 (6th Cir. 2013). The court must
determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 251-252 (1986). In considering the material facts
in the record, the court must recognize that “[t]he
mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be
evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the
plaintiff.” Id. at 422. Furthermore, plaintiff
“cannot rely on conjecture or conclusory
accusations.” Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519
F.3d 587, 605 (6th Cir. 2008).
argue that Plaintiff's claims under the ADEA and the
ELCRA are barred by the First Amendment's ministerial
exception to employment law claims brought by ministerial
employees against religious organizations. Def. Mot. at 2. It
is undisputed ...