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Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Academy of Wilmington

June 7, 2006

MICHELE CURAY-CRAMER, APPELLANT
v.
THE URSULINE ACADEMY OF WILMINGTON, DELAWARE, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; MICHAEL A. SALTARELLI; CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF WILMINGTON, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; BARBARA C. GRIFFIN; AND JERRY BOTTO



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware District Court No. 03-cv-01014 District Judge: Honorable Kent A. Jordan.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roth, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued on January 17, 2006

BEFORE: FUENTES, ROTH*fn1 and BECKER*fn2, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Michele Curay-Cramer, a teacher at the Ursuline Academy, a private, Catholic school, was fired after she signed her name to a pro-choice advertisement in the local newspaper. Curay-Cramer asserts both that signing the advertisement was conduct protected by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) and that she was fired for conduct less egregious under Catholic doctrine than conduct of male employees who were treated less harshly. The District Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). We will affirm but, in doing so, we do not adopt all of the District Court's reasoning.

I. Factual Background

Ursuline Academy is a private, non-diocesan Catholic school in Wilmington, Delaware. Students range in grade from pre-kindergarten to high school. Ursuline provides college preparatory education from a Catholic perspective. In June of 2001, Curay-Cramer began teaching four English classes and a Religion class to 7th and 8th graders at Ursuline. Eighteen months later, on the thirtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), she lent her name to an advertisement in support of that decision, signed by some six hundred individuals and organizations. The advertisement, which ran in the News-Journal, a newspaper of general circulation in Wilmington, Delaware, stated:

Thirty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade guaranteed a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices. That right is under attack. We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, reaffirm our commitment to protecting that right. We believe that each woman should be able to continue to make her own reproductive choices, guided by her conscience, ethical beliefs, medical advice and personal circumstances. We urge all Delawareans and elected officials at every level to be vigilant in the fight to ensure that women now and in the future have the right to choose.

Following the text were the names of the individuals endorsing it, including Curay-Cramer.

On the day the advertisement appeared, Curay-Cramer was called into the office of Barbara C. Griffin, the President of Ursuline. Griffin informed Curay-Cramer that the school was deeply troubled by her public support of a position inimical to accepted Catholic doctrine and that Griffin was considering terminating Curay-Cramer's employment with the school. In response, Curay-Cramer asserted her right to protest without retribution the school's stance on abortion. She also informed Griffin that she had volunteered for Planned Parenthood and distributed pamphlets that she believed contained important information related to reproductive options.

Curay-Cramer alleges that Griffin then consulted with Bishop Michael Saltarelli, who ratified the school's decision to terminate her.

A few days later, Curay-Cramer was again summoned to Griffin's office. She was informed that Ursuline had decided to terminate her employment but was offering her an opportunity to resign. She was given the weekend to think it over. The following week, Curay-Cramer met with Griffin and the head of Ursuline's Religion Department. Curay-Cramer told them that it was illegal to fire her for opposing the school's illegal employment practices. She also asserted that she had never said or done anything in class that was contrary to Ursuline's pedagogic philosophy. Griffin responded that Curay-Cramer could keep her job if she immediately and publicly recanted her support of the advertisement and stated unequivocally that she was pro-life. Curay-Cramer refused. She was then fired.

II. Procedural History

After she was fired, Curay-Cramer filed suit against Ursuline, Griffin, Jerry Botto (Ursuline's Director of Communications), Bishop Saltarelli, and the Diocese of Wilmington. Curay-Cramer included six counts in her Complaint: three federal claims and three state-law claims. Of the federal claims, Count One focuses on the advertisement in the News-Journal and alleges that it was a violation of Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to fire Curay-Cramer for opposing Ursuline's illegal employment practice of firing anyone who has or contemplates an abortion.*fn3 Count Two is based on the advertisement and associated advocacy for, and association with, persons protected by Title VII and the PDA. In Count Three, Curay-Cramer avers that she was fired because she is a woman and that similarly situated male employees have been treated less harshly for substantially similar conduct.

The District Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) after concluding that applying Title VII and the PDA would raise serious constitutional questions and that Congress did not manifest a clear legislative intent that Title VII be applied in a case like Curay-Cramer's. See NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 440 U.S. 490 (1979). The District Court then dismissed CurayCramer's state-law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

III. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The District Court exercised original jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (Title VII), as amended by the PDA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). We have appellate jurisdiction to review the final order of dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

We exercise plenary review of a district court's dismissal under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Alexander v. Whitman, 114 F.3d 1392, 1397 (3d Cir. 1997). We affirm where a party has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Conley v.Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Although we must accept as true all well-pled allegations, Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994), we need not credit the non-movant's conclusions of law or unreasonable factual inferences. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, ...


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