In a Split Opinion, Ninth Circuit Affirms Christian Humanitarian Organization’s Exemption From Title VII’s Prohibition Against Religious Discrimination

World Vision India
Image via Wikipedia

In Spencer v. World Vision, Inc., No. 08-35532, — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 3293706 (9th Cir. Aug. 23, 2010), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether a faith-based humanitarian organization is exempt from Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination.  Defendant World Vision describes itself as “a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.” Id. *1.  

Plaintiffs worked for World Vision for approximately ten years before they were dismissed for denying the deity of Jesus Christ and disavowing the doctrine of the Trinity.  The employees sued in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In response, World Vision filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (b)(6). On the Employees’ motion, the district court converted World Vision’s request into a motion for summary judgement and allowed discovery to proceed. Ultimately, the district court granted summary judgment to World Vision, concluding that it was a religious entity within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1. Spencer v. World Vision, Inc., 570 F. Supp. 2d 1279, 1280 (W.D. Wash. 2008).  The district court decided that the factors discussed in EEOC v. Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, 990 F.2d 458 (9th Cir.1993), “d[id] not provide an accurate framework … to determine whether a religious organization that is not an educational institution is entitled to Title VII exemption.”  Instead, the court instead relied on the factors discussed in LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Community Center Ass’n, 503 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 2007). Those nine factors led the court to hold that World Vision’s “purpose and character are primarily religious,” and thus, the organization fell within the language of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1.

Judge O’Scannlain concluded:

Based on the foregoing consideration of “[a]ll significant religious and secular characteristics,” I am satisfied that World Vision has met its burden of showing that the “general picture” of the organization is “primarily religious.” World Vision is a nonprofit organization whose humanitarian relief efforts flow from a profound sense of religious mission. That mission is evinced in the organization’s founding documents. Significantly, World Vision continues to act in accordance with those documents, and it explicitly and intentionally holds itself out to the public as a religious institution. While World Vision is neither owned by nor affiliated with a formally religious entity in the traditional sense, this does not preclude our finding that it is a “primarily religious” organization and thus eligible for the section 2000e-1 exemption.

Id. *15.

Circuit Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld concurred, concluding that:

I would reformulate Judge O’Scannlain’s test as this: To determine whether an entity is a “religious corporation, association, or society,” determine whether it is organized for a religious purpose, is engaged primarily in carrying out that religious purpose, holds itself out to the public as an entity for carrying out that religious purpose, and does not engage primarily or substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.  Under that test, World Vision is a religious corporation, so I would affirm.

Id. *21-22.

Judge Marsha S. Berzon dissented.

Judges and Attorneys

Before Circuit Judges Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, and Marsha S. Berzon.

Appeal take from the United States District Court for the Western District of  Washington, Ricardo S. Martinez, District Judge, Presiding.

Judith A. Lonnquist, Law Offices of Judith A. Lonnquist, P.S., Seattle, WA, argued the cause for the plaintiffs-appellants and filed the briefs.

Steven T. O’Ban, Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC, Seattle, WA, argued the cause for the defendant-appellee and filed the brief. Daniel J. Ichinaga, Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC, Seattle, WA, was also on the brief.

Lowell V. Sturgill, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued the cause and filed a brief on behalf of amicus curiae the United States. Gregory G. Katsas, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, and Marleigh D. Dover, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, were also on the brief.

L. Martin Nussbaum, Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons LLP, Colorado Springs, CO, filed a brief on behalf of amici curiae Christian Legal Society, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Center for Public Justice, National Association of Evangelicals, Samaritan’s Purse, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Gregory S. Baylor, Christian Legal Society, Springfield, VA, was also on the brief.

Kevin H. Theriot, Alliance Defense Fund, Leawood, KS, filed a brief on behalf of amici curiae Alliance Defense Fund and Youth for Christ. Ben Bull, Alliance Defense Fund, Leawood, KS, and Joel Oster, Alliance Defense Fund, Leawood, KS, were also on the brief.

Eric Bently, Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, Colorado Springs, CO, filed a brief on behalf of amici curiae Association of Christian Schools International and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Stuart J. Lark, Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, Colorado Springs, CO, was also on the brief.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: