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Saeemodarae v. Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp.

October 6, 2006

JACKIE SAEEMODARAE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MERCY HEALTH SERVICES-IOWA CORP., D/B/A MERCY MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mark W. Bennett Chief Judge, U. S. District Court Northern District OF Iowa

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

A. Procedural Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

B. Factual Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

1. Facts admitted by operation of local rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

2. Undisputed facts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

3. Further undisputed and disputed facts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

C. Arguments Of The Parties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

1. Mercy's argument . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

2. Saeemodarae's response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

3. Mercy's reply . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

A. Standards For Summary Judgment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

B. Title VII's "Religious Organization" Exemption . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

1. The applicable exemption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

2. Can Mercy assert the exemption? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

3. Does the exemption apply to Saeemodarae's claims? . . . . . . 30

a. The religious discrimination claim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

b. The retaliation claim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

C. The ICRA's "Bona Fide Religious Institution" Exemption . . . . . . . . . 34

1. The applicable exemption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

2. Should the court exercise supplemental jurisdiction to interpret the exemption? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

III. CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

The plaintiff in this action, a practicing Wiccan,*fn1 asserts religious discrimination and retaliation claims under federal and state law arising from the termination of her employment with a medical center that claims to have a Roman Catholic identity. The defendant moved to dismiss on the ground that it is a bona fide religious institution exempt from religious discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a) and IOWA CODE § 216.6(6)(b). The court converted the defendant's motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment and gave the parties a limited time to conduct discovery pertaining to the narrow questions of whether or not the defendant is entitled to the "religious organization" exemptions under state and federal law. After such discovery, the defendant refiled its motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. The court must now consider whether the plaintiff has generated genuine issues of material fact on the defendant's qualification for the "religious organization" exemptions from discrimination and retaliation claims under federal and state law.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Procedural Background

In a Complaint filed November 18, 2005 (docket no. 2), plaintiff Jackie Saeemodarae alleges that she was terminated from her employment as a medical telemetry technologist with Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., doing business as Mercy Medical Center (Mercy), because she is a practicing Wiccan. She alleges claims of religious discrimination and retaliation for claiming religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), IOWA CODE CH. 216.

On February 21, 2006, Mercy filed a pre-answer Motion To Dismiss (docket no. 6) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that Saeemodarae fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted, because Mercy is a bona fide religious institution exempt from religious discrimination claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a) and IOWA CODE § 216.6(6)(b). Mercy attached to its motion to dismiss the affidavit of a corporate officer and various corporate documents that Mercy contended demonstrate that it falls within the "religious organization" exemptions of Title VII and the ICRA. Mercy argued that most of these documents are public records, but "d[id] not object to the court treating its motion as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56," or to the court "allowing Plaintiff's counsel to conduct discovery regarding whether Defendant constitutes a religious institution within the meaning of the Title VII and [ICRA] religious institution exemptions." Defendant's Brief In Support Of Motion To Dismiss (docket no. 6-4), 3 n.2. In her March 15, 2006, response to Mercy's motion to dismiss (docket no. 9), Saeemodarae contended that Mercy had admitted that its exempt status was not ripe for determination before any discovery was conducted. Consequently, Saeemodarae argued that, at a minimum, she was entitled to conduct discovery prior to a determination on the exemption issue.

By order dated March 17, 2006 (docket no. 11), the court, in an abundance of caution, converted Mercy's Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court also established a schedule for discovery on issues pertaining to the applicability of the "religious organization" exemptions and a schedule for the refiling and briefing of Mercy's motion as a motion for summary judgment. More specifically, the court's March 17, 2006, order gave the parties to and including June 14, 2006, to conduct discovery pertaining to the narrow questions of whether or not defendant Mercy is entitled to the exemptions from religious discrimination claims against religious organizations found in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a) and IOWA CODE § 216.6(6) and, if so, whether such exemptions apply to all of Saeemodarae's claims. The order also directed that, on or after June 28, 2006, but not later than July 12, 2006, defendant Mercy was required to refile its motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment "in full compliance with Rule 56 and N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1," and that Saeemodarae was required thereafter to file a response to the motion for summary judgment "in full compliance with Rule 56 and N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1." Finally, the order provided that, upon the request of either party, the court would consider whether or not to set oral arguments on the converted motion for summary judgment.

On July 12, 2006, Mercy filed its Motion For Summary Judgment (docket no. 12), which reasserted the exemption issue. Mercy's motion included an extensive Statement Of Undisputed Facts (docket no. 12-2). On July 14, 2006, Mercy also filed an Answer with affirmative defenses (docket no. 13), asserting, inter alia, Mercy's "religious organization" exemptions. On July 21, 2006, Saeemodarae filed her Resistance To Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment (docket no. 15), which included a Statement Of Disputed Facts (docket no. 15-3), but no separate response to Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts. On July 31, 2006, Mercy filed a Reply (docket no. 16), in further support of its motion for summary judgment, which, among other things, pointed out Saeemodarae's failure to respond to Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts. On the basis of Saeemodarae's failure to respond, Mercy argues that its factual statements must be deemed admitted pursuant to applicable local rules. Saeemodarae has never responded to that contention. In addition, on July 31, 2006, Mercy filed a separate request for oral arguments on its motion for summary judgment (docket no. 17).

By order dated July 31, 2006 (docket no. 18), the court set oral arguments on Mercy's motion for summary judgment for September 29, 2006.*fn2 At the oral arguments, plaintiff Jackie Saeemodarae was represented by Shelley A. Horak of Horak & Associates in Sioux City, Iowa. Defendant Mercy Health Services was represented by Thomas W. Foley of Nyemaster, Goode, West, Hansell & O'Brien, P.C., in Des Moines, Iowa. The court finds that Mercy's motion for summary judgment is now ripe for disposition.

B. Factual Background

Ordinarily, in a ruling on a motion for summary judgment, this court would not attempt a detailed dissertation of the undisputed and disputed facts in the case. Rather, the court would provide sufficient facts, both undisputed and disputed, to put in context the parties' arguments for and against summary judgment. In this case, however, the question of whether the Title VII "religious organization" exemption applies requires the court to "look at all the facts to decide if the [defendant] is a religious corporation or educational institution," and in making this inquiry, "[i]t is appropriate to consider and weigh the religious and secular characteristics of the institution." Hall v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., 215 F.3d 618, 624 (6th Cir. 2000). It is likely that the same inquiry applies to the question of whether or not the "religious organization" exemption under the ICRA applies. Thus, a more complete statement of the pertinent facts is appropriate in this case. Moreover, the court finds that many of the pertinent facts must be deemed admitted by operation of local rules.

1. Facts Admitted by Operation of Local Rules

As to the latter point, the court notes that, in its March 17, 2006, order (docket no. 11) converting Mercy's original motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, the court expressly directed the parties that their filings in support of or resistance to the converted motion for summary judgment must be "in full compliance with Rule 56 and N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1." Mercy filed with its summary judgment motion a Statement Of Undisputed Facts (docket no. 12-2) as required by N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(a)(3), but Saeemodarae did not include with her response to the summary judgment motion a response to Mercy's statement of facts as required by N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(b)(2).

Local rule 56.1(b) provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

b. Resisting Party's Documents. A party resisting a motion for summary judgment must, within 21 days after service of the motion, file contemporaneously all of the following:

2. A response to the [moving party's] statement of material facts in which the resisting party expressly admits, denies, or qualifies each of the moving party's numbered statements of fact, filed as an electronic attachment to the brief under the same docket entry[.]

N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(b)(2). The rule provides, further, as follows:

A response to an individual statement of material fact that is not expressly admitted must be supported by references to those specific pages, paragraphs, or parts of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, exhibits, and affidavits that support the resisting party's refusal to admit the statement, with citations to the appendix containing that part of the record. The failure to respond, with appropriate citations to the appendix, to an individual statement of material fact constitutes an admission of that fact.

N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(b) (unnumbered paragraph) (emphasis added).

In this case, the court had required the parties to adhere to the requirements of this local rule when filing and responding to the motion for summary judgment, but Saeemodarae failed to provide a response to Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts (docket no. 12-2) as required by N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(b)(2). Even after Mercy called that omission to Saeemodarae's attention in its Reply, Saeemodarae did not amend her response to Mercy's motion for summary judgment to include a response to Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts, probably because she had no objective basis upon which to challenge Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts. Under these circumstances, the court finds that Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts, in its entirety, must be deemed admitted. See N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(b) (statements of fact to which no response is made are admitted).

Moreover, pursuant to the local rule, Saeemodarae's Statement Of Disputed Facts (docket no. 15-3) is supposed to be "[a] statement of additional material facts that the resisting party contends preclude summary judgment," N.D. IA. L.R. 56.1(b)(3) (emphasis added), not a response to the moving party's statement of facts. Thus, even if Saeemodarae's Statement Of Disputed Facts purports to contradict or dispute facts asserted in Mercy's Statement Of Undisputed Facts, the attempt to contradict or dispute those facts will be disregarded.

2. Undisputed Facts

The facts admitted by operation of local rules, and hence, undisputed for purposes of Mercy's motion for summary judgment are the following:*fn3

Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City (the Hospital), where plaintiff Jackie Saeemodarae was employed, is owned and operated by defendant Mercy Heath Services-Iowa Corp. (Mercy). The Hospital is one of many hospitals founded by the Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic religious order, founded in Ireland, and dedicated to serving the poor. As the Sisters of Mercy spread throughout Europe and settled in the United States, the Order established educational institutions, hospitals and social service ministries. Among the institutions founded by the Sisters of Mercy was the first Mercy Hospital, which was founded in the United States on approximately January 1, 1847, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since that time, the Sisters of Mercy have come to sponsor or co-sponsor approximately 140 health-related facilities throughout the United States, including hospitals, long term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, and family care and outreach centers. There are presently six Mercy-sponsored and co-sponsored health systems in the United States, including Trinity Health Corporation, as well as a number of independent hospitals. Trinity Health Corporation is the fourth largest Catholic Healthcare System in the United States.

The Sisters of Mercy first established a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa in 1890, at the request of civic leaders who sought to establish a new hospital that was not associated with city government. The hospital was established when Mother Mary Agatha Murphy purchased a house and converted it into a hospital. That hospital was named St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. The Sisters of Mercy purchased St. Vincent's Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, from the Benedictine Sisters in 1977, and merged the two hospitals under the name Marian Health Center. In 1999, Marian Health Center's name was formally changed to Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City.

Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City (the Hospital) is one of the hospitals owned and operated by defendant Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., doing business as Mercy Medical Center (Mercy). Mercy is, in turn, a Delaware, non-stock corporation. Mercy is a non-profit corporation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §501(c)(3). Mercy owns and operates hospitals and other health services entities in the state of Iowa, including Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City (the Hospital). Mercy is a wholly controlled subsidiary of Trinity Health-Michigan, and Trinity Health-Michigan is the sole corporate member of Mercy. Trinity Health-Michigan is a Michigan non-profit corporation that seeks to act in ways that promote the spiritual teachings and principles of the Roman Catholic Church. Trinity Health-Michigan is, in its turn, a wholly controlled subsidiary of Trinity Health Corporation, an Indiana non-profit corporation.

Trinity Health Corporation and Mercy are sponsored by Catholic Health Ministries. Catholic Health Ministries is a public juridic person of the Roman Catholic Church, and its activities are carried out in a manner consistent with the guidelines and directives of Catholic Health Ministries and the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes Catholic Health Ministries as an entity that acts in the name of the Church with respect to Church sponsored work.

In the event of dissolution, all of Mercy's assets must be distributed to Trinity Health-Michigan, provided that upon dissolution Trinity Health-Michigan is an existing, benevolent, charitable, scientific, religious, or educational institution, and is qualified as a tax exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). If Trinity Health-Michigan, is not so qualified, the assets of Mercy must be distributed to an organization that Trinity Health-Michigan designates, provided that organization meets all of the criteria set forth above.

Mercy's mission is to continue the healing ministry of the Catholic Church and to promote the well being of the people it serves by living the values of compassion, respect, concern for the poor, excellence, and stewardship. Mercy fulfills its mission, and thus advances the healing ministries of the Catholic Church, by engaging in activities that permit Mercy to prevent disease and promote public health; care for the sick, injured and disabled; conduct medically related research; and otherwise further charitable, scientific, and educational endeavors and support and provide services and programs for the health, well being, and benefit of all people. To further its mission, Mercy owns, operates, and manages hospitals, health care and related supporting or ancillary facilities, office buildings, clinics, outpatient facilities, intermediate care facilities, nursing homes, and other facilities that promote or support the aforementioned health services activities. Under its Bylaws, Mercy must conduct its activities in a manner consistent with The Guiding Principles for Catholic Health Ministries and its Apostolic Works, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and other directives promulgated by Catholic Health Ministries. It must also act in a manner that promotes the values and principles inherent in the medical-moral teachings of the Church, including the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.*fn4

During orientation, new employees of the Hospital are informed of Mercy's Catholic history, its Catholic identity, and its Catholic mission. The Hospital's employee policy manual informs employees of the Hospital's Catholic background and of its Catholic mission. A chaplain from the medical center's Pastoral Care Department leads morning and afternoon prayers and devotions on a daily basis. The prayers and devotions are broadcast over the Hospital's loudspeakers. All employees are invited to participate. The Hospital has a chapel on its premises. A Catholic mass, including scripture readings from the Bible, is held in the chapel at noon on a daily basis. The Hospital also holds services at its chapel on Catholic Holy Days of Obligation, including traditional Stations of the Cross during Lent. Bibles are made available to patients and family members, both in the chapel and in the patient rooms. During Advent, the Hospital displays two nativity scenes depicting Christ's birth. One of the nativity scenes is live. The Hospital displays other religious symbols throughout its facilities. All patient rooms have a cross on the wall. Crosses are displayed throughout the Hospital's facilities. There is a statue of Jesus Christ at the main entrance to the Hospital. At the patient entrance to the Hospital, a religious painting is displayed. Artworks depicting Christ or other religious scenes are also displayed throughout the Hospital.

Beginning in 2002, the Hospital began an initiative that resulted in promoting the "Renewed Culture" of Mercy. Mercy chose "F.I.S.H." as a symbol of its Renewed Culture. The symbol associated with F.I.S.H. was used by early Christians to share their faith while avoiding persecution. As an acronym, F.I.S.H. stands for "Faith-Inspired Service and Healing." Mercy's Faith-Inspired Service and Healing initiative is explained to all new employees during orientation. New employees are taught that each of these four characteristics, Faith, Inspired, Service and Healing, is essential to Mercy fulfilling its mission. During orientation, new employees are provided a bookmark and lapel pin both of which display the F.I.S.H. symbol. The F.I.S.H. symbol is displayed throughout the Hospital, on letterhead, on the website, on the intranet, on computer screen savers, and on murals and walls. The Hospital annually honors an employee who illustrates exceptional performance that represents and demonstrates the employee's commitment to the Hospital's values and the Hospital's culture of Faith Inspired Service and Healing. The award is named after Sister Catherine McAuley, and nominees are evaluated in areas including compassion, stewardship, respect, concern for those who are poor, excellence, faith, inspiration, service, and healing. In May of 2006, Sister Marlys Becker, a Chaplain at Mercy, was honored as the most recent recipient of the award.

The Pastoral Care Department includes four full-time chaplains, one part-time chaplain, and three on-call chaplains. Volunteers also provide Chaplain services, including Deacon candidates from the Sioux City and Sioux Falls Catholic Dioceses. Consistent with Trinity Health guidelines, Mercy has a Director of Mission Services and Ethics who provides leadership for Mercy's mission services and who promotes the mission and philosophy of Trinity Health and Mercy Health Network. The person who holds this position is ...


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