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Goodman v. Archbishop Curley High School, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 18, 2016

ANNETTE GOODMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ARCHBISHOP CURLEY HIGH SCHOOL, INC. and ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF BALTIMORE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Annette Goodman (“Plaintiff” or “Goodman”) commenced this action against Defendants Archbishop Curley High School, Inc. (“Curley”) and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore (“Archdiocese”) (collectively “Defendants”), alleging retaliation in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. (“Title IX”) and 34 C.F.R. § 100.7. See Compl., p. 10, ECF No. 1. Subsequently, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23), arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by Title IX’s religious organizations exemption, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(3). See Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss, p. 12, ECF No. 23-1. Following a February 5, 2016 hearing, this Court denied Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss via Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 27) and Order (ECF No. 28) dated February 26, 2016. See Goodman v. Archbishop Curley High School, Inc., et al., __ F.Supp. 3d __, No. RDB-15-0627, 2016 WL 759187, at *9 (D. Md. Feb. 26, 2016).

         Currently pending before this Court is Defendants’ Motion to Certify Interlocutory Appeal (ECF No. 32), in which Defendants request that this Court certify its February 26, 2016 Order (ECF No. 28) for immediate interlocutory appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The parties’ submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ Motion to Certify Interlocutory Appeal (ECF No. 32) is DENIED.[1]

         BACKGROUND[2]

         In August of 2013, Plaintiff Annette Goodman (“Plaintiff” or “Goodman”) began working as a school librarian at Defendant Archbishop Curley High School (“Curley”), an all-boys catholic high school administered by Defendant Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore (“Archdiocese”) (collectively “Defendants”). Compl. at ¶ 7, ECF No. 1. In April of 2014, Goodman indicated to school administrators her suspicion that a fellow Curley teacher, Lynette Trotta (“Trotta”), was involved in a sexual relationship with a Curley student (the “Student”). Id. at ¶¶ 10-19. She contends that the Curley administration did not seem surprised by her allegations, but rather responded to her report with anger and indifference, concerned primarily with the negative attention this incident might attract to the school. Id. at ¶ 19-30. Goodman was terminated from her position shortly thereafter on the basis that she had not immediately notified her superiors of her suspicions.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court (ECF No. 1) claiming retaliation in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. (“Title IX”) and 34 C.F.R. § 100.7. Id. at p. 10. Specifically, Goodman alleges that Trotta’s sexual abuse of the Student and Curley’s inadequate response violated Title IX, that Defendants had knowledge of Trotta’s inappropriate behavior but, until her report, showed deliberate indifference, and that this deliberate indifference exposed Defendants to civil liability under Title IX. Id. at ¶¶ 41, 42-44, 45. Therefore, Goodman claims, Defendants retaliated against her after she reported Trotta’s behavior by suspending her without pay, terminating her employment, informing her that they would share their reasons for termination with potential employers, publicly blaming her, and ruining her reputation. Id. at ¶ 46.

         Defendants have indicated that they fired Goodman not because she exposed suspected child abuse, but because she admittedly waited weeks[3] before doing so. Mem. Supp. Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss, p. 1-2, ECF No. 23-1. Defendants proffer that Canon Law, in accordance with their own policies, “requires immediate reporting of child sex abuse.” Id. Accordingly, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23), seeking dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title IX retaliation claim on the grounds that it was barred by, inter alia[4], Title IX’s religious organizations exemption.

         Title IX’s religious organizations exemption provides that “this section shall not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(3). However, the Supreme Court of the United States in Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ., 544 U.S. 167 (2005) has characterized the exceptions to Title IX’s broad prohibition on discrimination as “narrow.” Jackson, 544 U.S. at 173-175 (“Title IX, . . . subject to a list of narrow exceptions not at issue here, broadly prohibits a funding recipient from subjecting any person to ‘discrimination’ ‘on the basis of sex’ ” . . . “Title IX is a broadly written general prohibition on discrimination, followed by specific, narrow exceptions to that broad prohibition”) (emphasis added). Additionally, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Doe v. Salvation Army in U.S., 685 F.3d 564 (6th Cir. 2012) specifically identified Title IX’s religious organizations exemption as narrow. See Doe, 685 F.3d at 572 (referencing “narrow but express exceptions relating explicitly to religious organizations in the amendments to Title IX . . . .”) (emphasis added).

         In their Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23), Defendants took the position “that Title IX’s religious organizations exemption bars any employment discrimination or retaliation claim [from proceeding] against them if they define their actions as tenets of their religion.” Goodman, 2016 WL 759187 at *5. It is undisputed that Goodman was employed in a non-ministerial capacity as the school librarian. Defendants argued that the Title IX exemption barred Plaintiff from taking discovery on her claims or from challenging their religiously-based justification for her termination as pre-textual, pursuant to the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis[5]. Id. This Court rejected Defendants’ position, citing the well-recognized importance of retaliation claims to Title IX’s enforcement. See Jackson, 544 U.S. at 180. This Court observed that “no court [since Jackson] has . . . held that Title IX’s religious organizations exemption precludes a Plaintiff from raising a Title IX retaliation claim simply because the employer has proposed a religious reason for her termination.” Goodman, 2016 WL 759187 at *7.

         On the contrary, courts have long-recognized that simply allowing an employment discrimination or retaliation claim to survive a motion to dismiss and to proceed under the McDonnell Douglas scheme does not threaten a Defendant’s religious interests or freedoms. See DeMarco v. Holy Cross High School, 4 F.3d 166, 170-71 (2d Cir. 1993) (“[I]n those cases where a defendant proffers a religious purpose for its allegedly discriminatory employment action, a plaintiff will usually be able to challenge as pretextual the employer’s justification . . . .”); Redhead v. Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 566 F.Supp.2d 125, 134 (E.D.N.Y. 2008) (“an employer’s simple assertion of a religious motive usually will not prevent a reviewing court from asking whether that motive ‘was in fact pretext’ within the meaning of McDonnell Douglas.” (quoting DeMarco, 4 F.3d at 171)). Therefore, in a February 26, 2016 Memorandum Opinion and Order, this Court held that Title IX’s religious organizations exemption did not bar Plaintiff’s retaliation claim from proceeding under the McDonnell Douglas framework. Defendants now seek interlocutory appeal of this Court’s Order.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 1292(b) of Title 28 of the United States Code permits a United States District Court to certify an order for interlocutory appeal where that order (1) “involves a controlling question of law” (2) “as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion” (3) “and from which immediate appeal may advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” Smith v. Murphy, 634 F. App’x 914, 915 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotations omitted). “The decision to certify an interlocutory appeal is firmly in the district court’s discretion.” Butler v. DirectSAT USA, LLC, 307 F.R.D. 445, 452 (D. Md. 2015).

         “Unless all of the statutory criteria are satisfied, however, ‘the district court may not and should not certify its order . . . for an immediate appeal under [S]ection 1292(b).’ ” Id. (quoting Ahrenholz v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 219 F.3d 674, 676 (7th Cir. 2000)). Courts “should grant this ‘extraordinary remedy’ only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ where early appellate review would avoid a ‘protracted and expensive litigation’ process.” Randolph v. ADT Sec. Servs., Inc., No. DKC 09- 1790, 2012 WL 273722, at *5 (D. Md. Jan. 30, 2012) (quoting Fannin v. CSX Transp., Inc., 873 F.2d 1438, at *2 (4th Cir. 1989) ...


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