United States District Court, District of Columbia
December 12, 2002
LAURA J. HOPKINS, PLAINTIFF,
WOMEN'S DIVISION, GENERAL BOARD OF GLOBAL MINISTRIES, THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton, United States District Judge
This matter comes before the Court upon defendant's motion to dismiss
the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The plaintiff brings this cause of action pursuant
to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et
seq., (2000) ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2000) ("Section
1981"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) (2000) ("Section 1981(a)"), and
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000) ("Section 1983") and alleges: (1) employment
discrimination based on religion, race, national origin, age and sex; (2)
retaliation; (3) the creation of a hostile work environment; (4) wrongful
discharge; (5) intentional and negligent infliction of emotional
distress; (6) negligent hiring, supervision, and retention; and (7)
defamation. Amended Complaint and Prayer for Jury Trial ("Compl.") at
9-13. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons
set forth below, the Court must deny the defendants' motion to dismiss
the plaintiff's race discrimination claims under Title VII and Section
1981 because, contrary to the defendants' assertion, she has sufficiently
pled an adverse action. However, the Court must grant the defendants'
motion to dismiss the plaintiff's religious discrimination claim, because
it is barred by the religious entities exception of Title VII, and all of
her remaining claims because she has failed to respond to the defendants'
motion to dismiss those claims and therefore this Court will treat those
claims as conceded.
I. Factual Background
A brief description of the defendants, all affiliates of the United
Methodist Church ("the Church"), is a necessary predicate prior to
addressing the facts of this case.
(A) The United Methodist Church
Each of the defendants are "entities and affiliates of the Church
. . ." Id. at ¶ 7. Within the Church, "the main legislative and
policymaking body is a quadrennial General Conference." Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot.") at 4. The
Church's General Conference
has established general boards, including defendant General Board of
Global Ministries ("General Board"), "to carry out assigned functions of
program, administration, and/or service." Id. at 6 (quoting The Book of
Discipline of The United Methodist Church (Harriet Jane Olson, ed., 2000)
("Book of Discipline")*fn1 at ¶ 703). The Book of Discipline "sets forth
various responsibilities and objectives for Defendant General Board,
involving such matters as missionary work of various types, ministering
to human need, expressing the concerns of women, etc."*fn2 Id. (citing
Book of Discipline at ¶¶ 1302-03). Defendant Women's Division of the
General Board ("Women's Division") has
responsibilities [that] include such matters as
securing funds `for the support of the program of the
Church through the General Board of Global
Ministries;' involving women in church activities;
enlisting women in activities `that have a moral and
religious significance of the public welfare and that
contribute to the establishment of a just global
society;' and recommending programs and policies to
United Methodist Women.
Id. at 6-7 (quoting Book of Discipline at ¶ 1318). Finally, Defendant
United Methodist Women is an auxiliary to the Women's Division with a
mission "to promote its work in accordance with the program and policies
of the Women's Division . . ." Book of Discipline at ¶ 533.
(B) Factual Background of This Case
The plaintiff, a Native American female, who is not a member of the
Church, was employed in the Women's Division as an Executive Secretary
for Economic Justice from June 14, 1996 until June 18, 1999. Compl. at ¶
8; Defs.' Mot. at 7. According to the plaintiff, shortly after she began
working for the Women's Division she voiced her "concerns" to her
immediate supervisor about what she describes as an "unwritten job
requirement that executive level staff . . . were to participate in
United Methodist worship, devotions and or prayer services." Compl. at ¶
11. The plaintiff allegedly continued to complain that such attendance at
the Church's religious services was contrary to her own religious beliefs
and in 1998 she began to either not attend or arrived late to these
religious services. Id. at ¶ 12. During this time period, defendants
allegedly required the plaintiff "to increasingly write and develop
resources and participate in meetings or exercises that involved advance
use and understanding of Biblical scripture and many United Methodist,
[sic] multimedia resources." Id. at ¶ 13. The plaintiff states that she
"periodically . . .
indicated to her supervisor . . . that she found a few
of the [aforementioned] tasks unpleasant or difficult based either upon
her religion, race or ethnicity, or national origin." Id. at ¶ 14. In
addition, the plaintiff claims that while several of her peers were
experts in matters related to "Native American and indigenous peoples[,]"
her supervisor assigned her to tasks related to these issues. Id. The
plaintiff also asserts that she "repeatedly made requests to her
supervisor for necessary office equipment to carry out her job function
tasks . . . and to have support staff disciplined for poor job
performance." Id. at ¶ 15. Beginning in the middle of 1997, the plaintiff
allegedly brought complaints of discrimination to her supervisor, who
promised remedial action, but according to the plaintiff her claims were
ignored. Id. a ¶¶ 16-17. Then, in the middle of June 1999, the plaintiff
was terminated from her job for insubordination, which, according to
plaintiff, violates the defendants' "own employment policies and
guidelines[,]" id. at ¶ 22, and allegedly was in response to complaints
she lodged with the defendants' "leadership personnel" about the inaction
by her immediate supervisor towards her prior claims, id. at ¶ 20. The
plaintiff claims that the defendants "manufactured [a] reason to terminate
[her] based upon her inability to attend two back-to-back meetings." Id.
II. Standards of Review
(A) Rule 12(b)(1)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) requires the plaintiff to bear
the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the
court has jurisdiction to entertain her claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1);
Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp.2d 9,
13 (D.D.C. 2001) (holding that the court has an "affirmative obligation
to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional
authority."); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. United States Postal Serv.,
27 F. Supp.2d 15, 18 (D.D.C. 1998); Darden v. United States, 18 Cl. Ct.
855, 859 (Cl. Ct. 1989). While the Court must accept as true all the
factual allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a motion to
dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics
Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993), because
the plaintiff has the burden of proof to establish jurisdiction, the
"`plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer
scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6)
motion for failure to state a claim." Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of
Police, 185 F. Supp.2d at 13-14 (citation omitted). Finally, the Court
notes that in deciding a 12(b)(1) motion, it is well established in this
Circuit that a court is not limited to the allegations in the complaint
but may consider material outside of the complaint in an effort to
determine whether the court has jurisdiction in the case. See EEOC v.
St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 n. 3 (D.C. Cir.
1997); Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir.
1992); Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987); Hohri v.
United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986); Grand Lodge of
Fraternal Order of Police, 185 F. Supp.2d at 14.
(B) Rule 12(b)(6)
On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), this
Court must construe the allegations and facts in the complaint in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff and must grant the plaintiff the
benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the alleged facts.
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46
(1957); Kowal v. MCI Communications
Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). However, the Court need not
accept inferences or conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the
facts set forth in the complaint. Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. In deciding
whether to dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is able to only
consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as
exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about
which the Court may take judicial notice. St. Francis Xavier Parochial
Sch., 117 F.3d at 624-25. The Court will dismiss a claim pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) only if the defendant can demonstrate "beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46.
III. Legal Analysis
At the outset, this Court must address the fact that the plaintiff has
failed to respond to some of the assertions raised in the defendants'
motion to dismiss. Specifically, the plaintiff has only responded to the
defendants' motion to dismiss her race discrimination claims that have
been brought pursuant to Title VII and Section 1981 and her religious
discrimination claim pursuant to Title VII.*fn3 This Court's Local
Rule 7.1(b) states:
Within 11 days of the date of service or at such other
time as the court may direct, an opposing party shall
serve and file a memorandum of points and authorities
in opposition to the motion. If such a memorandum is
not filed within the prescribed time, the court may
treat the motion as conceded.
It is well understood in this Circuit that when a plaintiff files an
opposition to a motion to dismiss addressing only certain arguments raised
by the defendant, a court may treat those arguments that the plaintiff
failed to address as conceded. FDIC v. Bender, 127 F.3d 58, 67-68 (D.C.
Cir. 1997); Stephenson v. Cox, Civil Action No. 00-1921, 2002 WL
31106569, at *2 (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2002). The District of Columbia Circuit
has stated that "the discretion to enforce . . . [R]ule [7.1(b)] lies
wholly with the district court", Bender, 127 F.3d at 67-68 (citing Twelve
John Does v. District of Columbia, 117 F.3d 571, 577 (D.C. Cir. 1997)),
and noted that the Circuit "ha[s] yet to find that a district court's
enforcement of this rule constituted an abuse of discretion", id.
(citations omitted). Therefore, because the plaintiff has failed to
address the defendants' positions that certain claims in the complaint
should be dismissed, the Court will treat those claims as conceded.
Accordingly, the Court will consider only the plaintiff's religious
discrimination claim under Title VII and her race discrimination claims
under Title VII and Section 1981.
(1) Is the Plaintiff's Religious Discrimination Claim under Title VII
Section 702(a) of Title VII provides a specific exemption from Title
coverage for religious institutions, stating that "[t]his
subchapter shall not apply . . . to a religious corporation,
association, educational institution, or society with respect to the
employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work
connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association,
educational institution, or society of its activities."
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a). Thus, the defendants assert that the
plaintiff's Title VII religious discrimination claim must be dismissed
because they are religious entities exempt from Title VII's coverage.
Defs.' Mot. at 11-14. In response, the plaintiff claims that this
exemption only applies if the "organization makes its employment decision
upon religious basis or criteria . . . [and] because the alleged religious
discrimination occurred after Plaintiff was hired and not during the
hiring process" the religious institution exemption is not applicable.*fn4
Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp'n")
This Court must agree with the defendants that "the exemption of
Section 702(a) quite clearly applies to all forms of employment
decisions, not just the initial hiring decision . . ." Reply at 5. In
Hall v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., 215 F.3d 618, 624 (6th Cir.
2000), the Sixth Circuit stated that "[t]he decision to employ
individuals `of a particular religion' under § 2000e-1(a) and §
2000e-2(e)(2) has been interpreted to include the decision to terminate
an employee whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with
those of its employer." The plaintiff's religious discrimination claim in
Hall arose from her termination due to a conflict of interest between the
church that she attended and the defendant religious college where she
was employed. This conflict of interest centered around the fact that her
church "condoned homosexual lifestyles and [the defendant college's]
clear denunciation of such alternative lifestyles . . ." Id. at 622. The
Sixth Circuit focused its analysis on whether the defendant college was a
religious educational institution within the meaning of Section 702(a).
Having concluded that the defendant was such an organization, the Hall
Court found that the organization "was exempt from the Title VII
prohibition against discrimination based on religion" and thus the
plaintiff's religious discrimination claim arising out of her termination
was not justiciable. Id. at 625. Thus, the Sixth Circuit concluded that
Section 702(a) barred religious discrimination claims for
acts committed after hiring.*fn5
The Eleventh Circuit has also had the occasion to examine the religious
institution exemption embodied in Section 702(a) of Title VII. In
Killinger v. Samford University, 113 F.3d 196 (11th Cir. 1997), the
plaintiff brought a religious discrimination claim against the defendant
university as a result of his removal as a professor of the defendant's
divinity school because of a disagreement with the dean of the divinity
school regarding their respective theological views.*fn6 As the Sixth
Circuit did in Hall, the Killinger Court focused on whether the defendant
university was a religious educational institution. Having concluded that
the defendant was a religious institution, the Eleventh Circuit held that
"Section 702 exemption's purpose and words easily encompass Plaintiff's
case; the exemption allows religious institutions to employ only persons
whose beliefs are consistent with the employer's when the work is
connected with carrying out the institution's activities." Id. at 200.
Although plaintiff asserts otherwise, it is clear that religious
discrimination claims are barred with respect to the entire realm of the
employment arena and not just the actual hiring of individuals. While
plaintiff cites EEOC v. Pacific Press, 676 F.2d 1272 (9th Cir. 1982) and
Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis, Inc., 887 F. Supp. 157 (W.D.Tenn.
1995), for the proposition that Title VII's exemption for religious
entities "only applies if the religious entity or organization makes its
employment decision upon religious basis or criteria", Pl.'s Opp'n at 8,
these cases do not support her proposition. In Pacific Press, the
plaintiff brought a Title VII claim against a religious entity for sex
discrimination and retaliation because of her discharge, which she
alleged occurred due to her filing the discrimination charges. 676 F.2d
at 1274-75. The Ninth Circuit examined the legislative history of Title
VII and concluded that religious entities are only protected against
religious discrimination claims and "are not immune from liability for
discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or for retaliatory
actions against employees who exercise their rights under the statute."
Id. at 1276. The plaintiff also cites the district court's decision in
Boyd, 887 F. Supp. at 157, because she apparently fails to appreciate
that the Sixth Circuit subsequently affirmed that case in a published
opinion. See Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis, Inc., 88 F.3d 410 (6th
Cir. 1996). In Boyd, the plaintiff brought a Title VII claim against the
defendant religious educational institution for pregnancy
discrimination. Commenting on Title VII's religious exemptions, the Sixth
Circuit stated that Section 702(a) does not "exempt religious educational
institutions with respect to all discrimination. It merely indicates that
such institutions may choose to employ members of their own religion
without fear of being charged with religious discrimination. Title VII
still applies, however, to a religious institution charged with sex
discrimination." Id. at 413. It is clear that both Pacific Press and Boyd
simply stand for the proposition that while religious discrimination
claims are exempt from Title VII under Section 702(a), other types of
discrimination prohibited by Title VII are not.
In this case, there is no dispute that the defendants are religious
entities within the
meaning of Section 702 of Title VII. Thus, as the
plaintiff simply asserts that the religious entities exception to Title
VII is not applicable to her circumstances because she opines that it
only applies at the hiring stage, a position which the Court has rejected
for the reasons set forth above, the Court must dismiss the plaintiff's
Title VII religious discrimination claim.
(2) Has the Plaintiff Failed to State a Claim of Race
Discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981?
To satisfy the pleading requirements for racial discrimination claims
under either Title VII or Section 1981, a plaintiff's complaint must
comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 and therefore must simply
contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); see Swierkiewicz v.
Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002); Sparrow v. United Air Lines,
Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1114-15 (D.C. Cir. 2000). In Conley, the Supreme
Court stated that "all the Rules require is `a short and plain statement
of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the
plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests . . ." 355 U.S.
at 47-48. The District of Columbia Circuit in Sparrow summarized its
viewpoint on the pleading requirements of race discrimination claims
stating that "[b]ecause racial discrimination in employment is a claim
upon which relief can be granted . . . [,] `I was turned down for a job
because of my race' is all a complaint has to say to survive a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." 216 F.3d at 1115 (quoting Bennett v.
Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998) (internal quotations
While the defendant is correct that, notwithstanding the liberal
pleading standard, a plaintiff "can plead himself out of court by alleging
facts that render success on the merits impossible[,]" Sparrow, 216 F.3d
at 1116, this Court finds that the plaintiff has sufficiently pled her
race discrimination claims under both Title VII and Section 1981.
Although the plaintiff's several claims may be inarticulately drafted,
this Court is unable to state that it is "beyond doubt" that she can
prove no set of facts in support of her race discrimination claims. See
Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46. This is because she alleges that beginning in
1997 and until her termination, she
brought mounting discriminatory complaints of a
disparate treatment nature to her immediate
supervisor's attention . . . [and] pleaded with the
supervisor to take action on an abusive work
environment situation, along with calling on the
supervisor to have staff cease unwelcome inquiry
about her race or ethnicity, national origin, and
religious affiliation or practices.
Compl. at ¶ 16. The plaintiff went on in her complaint to explain that
most offenses regarding [her] terms and conditions of
work were increasingly grounded upon discrimination
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 1981a in regard to race or
ethnicity, national origin, religion and sexual
harassment, besides concern for violations under
42 U.S.C. § 1983."
Compl. at ¶ 18. Moreover, she states that she was terminated in June 1999
after she had again urgently sought Defendants[']
leadership personnel to resolve complaints that her
supervisor would not address and had instructed
Plaintiff to keep confidential. Defendants thus . . .
manufactured [a] reason
to terminate Plaintiff based
upon her inability to attend two back-to-back
meetings, furthermore dismissing her claim that the
inability was brought about by her long unresolved,
stressful struggle with her supervisor over the gross
insubordination and possibly fraudulent behavior of a
support staff person the Plaintiff was made to
Compl. at ¶ 20. While the defendants are correct that an employment
action must have "materially adverse consequences affecting the terms,
conditions or privileges of employment[,]" Reply at 10 (quoting Brown v.
Brody, 199 F.3d 446
, 457 (D.C. Cir. 1999), and that many of the
plaintiff's complaints may not themselves be actionable injuries (i.e.,
defendants' failure to discipline one of the plaintiff's co-employees and
denial of access to equipment necessary for the performance of her job),
it is apparent that the plaintiff is claiming that her termination,
purportedly for failing to attend certain meetings and to attend other
meetings timely, was a pretext for concealing that she was subjected to
race discrimination during the course of her employment and that her
termination was related to her supervisor's failure to act on her
long-standing complaints of race discrimination. This is all that the
plaintiff must allege to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)
as to all of her Title VII and Section 1981 race discrimination claims,
i.e., that she was subjected to race discrimination during the course of
her employment with the defendants and that she was subsequently
terminated in retaliation for such complaints.*fn7
For the aforementioned reasons, this Court must grant the defendants'
motion to dismiss all of the plaintiff's claims except for her race
discrimination claims that have been filed pursuant to Title VII and
Section 1981 because it is unable to conclude that it is "beyond doubt"
that she will be unable to prove those claims. The plaintiff's other
claims must be dismissed, however, either because she has effectively
conceded them by her silence or they are barred under Title VII's
exemption which is applicable to religious entities.*fn8