On Appeal from the United States District Court For the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. Action No. 04-80) District Judge: The Honorable Sean J. McLaughlin.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge
Argued August 16, 2006*fn1
BEFORE: SMITH, COWEN, and GREENBERG.
Former University Chaplain Lynette Petruska appeals an order from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissing her federal employment discrimination and state law claims against Gannon University ("Gannon" or "the University"), the private Catholic diocesan college that employed her from July 16, 1997 until October 15, 2002. The District Court dismissed Petruska's complaint for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), holding that the "ministerial exception"--a doctrine rooted in the First Amendment--barred her claims.
This Court has not previously ruled on the viability or the scope of the ministerial exception. Today, we join seven of our sister circuits in adopting the exception and hold that it applies to any claim, the resolution of which would limit a religious institution's right to choose who will perform particular spiritual functions.
Petruska's Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims, as well as her state civil conspiracy and negligent retention and supervision claims, are barred by the ministerial exception insofar as they implicate a church's right to select its ministers under the Free Exercise Clause. Because resolution of Petruska's fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract claims do not limit Gannon's free exercise rights, and because an evaluation of these claims would not violate the Establishment Clause, they are not precluded by the exception. Nevertheless, Petruska has failed to plead fraud with particularity as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). Accordingly, we will affirm the District Court's order dismissing Petruska's Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims, as well as her state civil conspiracy, negligent retention and supervision, and fraudulent misrepresentation claims. For the reasons set forth below, we will remand her breach of contract claim for further consideration by the District Court.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
For purposes of a motion to dismiss, we must accept as true--as did the District Court--the plaintiff's factual allegations. See Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977) (explaining the standard of review for Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) motions).*fn2 Accordingly, the facts set forth below are drawn from Petruska's First Amended Complaint.
Gannon University is a private Catholic diocesan college located in Erie, Pennsylvania. Gannon hired Petruska as the University's Director of Social Concerns on July 16, 1997. At that time, Reverend Nicholas Rouch was the University Chaplain. When Rouch left to study in Rome for a period of three years, he was promised that he could resume his position as chaplain when he returned. In his absence, the University appointed an interim chaplain, who held the position until June of 1999. When the interim chaplain resigned, then-President Monsignor David Rubino promoted Petruska to permanent University Chaplain on July 1, 1999, with the advice and consent of Bishop Trautman, the Chair of Gannon's Board of Trustees (the "Board"). Petruska was the first female in Gannon's history to serve in that position. As such, and cognizant of the promise made to Rouch, Petruska specifically sought assurances from Rubino that she would not simply be replaced when Rouch returned or another qualified male became available. Rubino assured her that future decisions regarding her tenure as chaplain would be based solely on her performance, not her gender.
Several months after her appointment, in March of 2000, Rubino was forced to take a leave of absence when allegations surfaced that he was having a sexual affair with a female subordinate. Thereafter, another female employee accused Rubino of sexual harassment, and Petruska was instrumental in bringing this claim to the attention of Bishop Trautman and then-Provost Dr. Thomas Ostrowski. Rubino formally resigned in May of 2000, and Ostrowski was appointed Acting President. Following Rubino's resignation, and at Bishop Trautman's behest, Gannon began a campaign to cover-up Rubino's misconduct. Petruska strenuously--and vocally--objected to the University's response.*fn3
In July of 2000, Ostrowski met with Bishop Trautman, as well as Rouch, who had by then returned from Rome. Bishop Trautman notified Ostrowski that he had created a new position--Vice-President for Mission and Ministry--and that he had appointed Rouch to fill it. The position was created without input from any other University officials and did not include a job description. At that meeting, the Bishop informed Ostrowski that he was to remove Petruska as University Chaplain. When Ostrowski refused, Bishop Trautman instructed him to restructure the Chaplain's Division by placing it under the leadership of Rouch. Ostrowski also refused to take part in the proposed restructuring.
On July 28, 2000, Ostrowski told Petruska about his meeting with Rouch and Bishop Trautman. He explained the proposed restructuring and asked Petruska how she would respond if the Chaplain's Office were placed under Rouch's leadership. Petruska indicated that she would challenge this decision, and Ostrowski conceded that the proposed action was being taken on the basis of her gender. Although Ostrowski stated that he would try to prevent the restructuring and Petruska's removal, he later explained that he could delay, but not prevent, these events.
On October 2, 2000, Petruska signed a revised contract, which was equivalent to those of the other vice-presidents at Gannon. Her contract was thereby extended until June 30, 2003. From March to May of 2001, Ostrowski repeatedly suggested that Petruska consider accepting another position at Gannon, because Bishop Trautman and Reverend Rouch would never let her remain as University Chaplain. Ostrowski was removed from consideration in the presidential search on April 19, 2001.
On May 21, 2001, Dr. Antoine Garibaldi was appointed President of Gannon and he began his tenure on July 1, 2001. After Garibaldi became President, some of Petruska's responsibilities were reassigned and she was instructed to limit her comments at University events.
On August 21, 2002, Garibaldi notified Petruska that he had decided to restructure and informed her that she would be removed from the President's Staff and that the Chaplain's Division would report to Rouch. Garibaldi did not present the restructuring proposal to the University's President's Council as required by Gannon's Governance Manual. Petruska informed Garibaldi that she knew that this action was being taken against her because of her gender and told him that she would be open to a "buy out" of her contract. Although Garibaldi indicated that he would be willing to discuss the restructuring, he later declined to discuss the matter with Petruska. After meeting with Garibaldi, Petruska orally requested information about filing a discrimination grievance with the University Review Council, but was notified in a letter dated August 28, 2002 that the University Review Council was not a proper forum because her complaint was directed against the President and Chair of the Board.
On September 30, 2002, Rouch called Petruska and indicated that he wanted to discuss the restructuring. She declined to meet with him until she resolved her concerns about the University's discriminatory conduct with Garibaldi. That same day, Petruska sent an e-mail to Garibaldi, stating that she intended to speak publicly about the questionable motives underlying the restructuring, but noted that she was willing to meet with him to discuss how all parties could "move forward" if Ricarda Vincent, the president of her community, was permitted to attend. Garibaldi did not respond. Petruska later learned that, during a telephone conversation between Bishop Trautman and Vincent, the Bishop "yelled" at Vincent. The next day, October 1, Vincent told Petruska that she could not take any ...