on March 23, 2017
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania (D. C. Civil Action No.
2:16-cv-00834) District Judge: Honorable Gerald J. Pappert.
H. Schorr, Esquire (Argued) Schorr and Associates Counsel for
M. Creasy, Esquire Andrea M. Kirshenbaum, Esquire (Argued)
Post & Schell Counsel for Appellee
Before: SMITH, Chief Judge JORDAN and ROTH, Circuit Judges.
Fallon was terminated by his employer, Mercy Catholic Medical
Center, because he refused to be inoculated against flu. He
opposed the flu vaccine because he believed that this vaccine
might do more harm than good. However, Mercy Catholic
required its employees to receive the flu vaccine unless they
qualified for a medical or religious exemption. In 2014,
Fallon sought the exemption on religious grounds. Mercy
Catholic ruled that he did not qualify and terminated him
when he continued to refuse the vaccine. Fallon sued under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,  arguing that his
termination constituted religious discrimination. The
District Court dismissed his case with prejudice because his
beliefs, while sincere and strongly held, were not religious
in nature and, therefore, not protected by Title VII.
deciding the case, the District Court considered the full
text of an essay that was partially quoted in Fallon's
complaint but not submitted in full until Mercy Catholic
attached it to the reply brief in support of its motion to
dismiss. Fallon now appeals, arguing that his beliefs are
religious in nature. He also contends that only the portions
of the essay, which were quoted in the complaint, should have
been considered. Finally, he asserts that the dismissal
should not have been with prejudice. We agree, however, with
the District Court and will affirm.
began his employment with Mercy Catholic as a Psychiatric
Crisis Intake Worker in September 1994. In 2012, Mercy
Catholic began requiring employees to obtain a flu vaccine or
submit an exemption form to obtain a medical or religious
exemption. Any employee granted an exemption was required to
wear a mask as an accommodation. While Fallon does not belong
to any religious organization, he holds strong personal
beliefs, opposing the flu vaccine. In 2012 and 2013, Fallon
sought and received religious exemptions, based on personal
beliefs which he explained in a lengthy essay attached to his
requests for exemption. In 2014, Fallon made a similar
request for an exemption, again attaching his essay which he
described throughout the complaint in this action, as
"explaining his sincerely held
beliefs." His request was denied. Mercy Catholic
explained to Fallon that it had changed its standards for
granting a religious exemption and that Fallon's
submission no longer sufficed. Mercy Catholic requested a
letter from a clergyperson to support his request for an
exemption. Fallon could not provide one. Fallon was suspended
and ultimately terminated on December 31, 2014, for failing
to comply with the flu vaccine requirements.
February 19, 2016, Fallon filed a complaint against Mercy
Catholic for, among other things,  religious discrimination and
failure to accommodate in violation of Title VII. On June 1,
2016, Mercy Catholic filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that
Fallon's beliefs were not religious and therefore not
protected under Title VII. Fallon opposed the motion to
dismiss. Mercy Catholic submitted a reply brief and included,
as an attachment, the twenty-two page essay that Fallon had
attached to his request for religious accommodation in 2014.
On July 26, the District Court held a two-hour hearing on the
motion, at which Fallon argued that the District Court could
not consider the full essay in relation to a motion to
dismiss because the full essay was not part of the complaint.
On August 9, 2016, partly on the basis of the full essay, the
District Court granted Mercy Catholic's motion to
dismiss. Because the District Court concluded that amendment
would be futile, the dismissal was with prejudice.
argues that his complaint properly alleges religious
discrimination in violation of Title VII. Title VII makes it
an unlawful employment practice for an employer "to
discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate
against any individual with respect to his compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of
such individual's . . . religion . .
.." According to the statutory definitions,
"[t]he term 'religion' includes all aspects of
religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless
an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably
accommodate to an employee's or prospective
employee's religious observance or practice without undue
hardship on the conduct of the employer's
Title VII, in order to establish religious discrimination,
the employee must have shown that (1) he held a sincere
religious belief that conflicted with a job requirement, (2)
he informed his employer of the conflict, and (3) he was
disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting
requirement. Here, Fallon held a sincere opposition to
vaccination that conflicted with the requirement that he
receive the flu vaccine, he informed Mercy Catholic of this
conflict, and he was terminated for failing to comply with
the vaccination requirement. Thus, we are left to consider
only whether Fallon's opposition to vaccination is a
religious belief under Title VII. If not, he has not pleaded
a prima facie case.
The Definition of "Religion"
have acknowledged, "[f]ew tasks that confront a court
require more circumspection than that of determining whether
a particular set of ideas constitutes a religion . .
.."This task is particularly difficult when
we have to determine whether a nontraditional faith requires
the protections of the First Amendment and/or of Title VII.
conducting our review, we bear in mind the history of the
judicial definitions of religion. In United States v.
Seeger, while interpreting a conscientious objector
statute that exempted from conscription those whose religious
training and belief made them opposed to war in any form, the
Supreme Court put forward a standard for determining whether
a belief is religious: "[D]oes the claimed belief occupy
the same place in the life of the objector as an orthodox
belief in God holds in the life of one clearly qualified for
exemption?" With this standard, the Court
differentiated between those whose views were religious in
nature and those whose views were "essentially
political, sociological, or philosophical . .
.." The Court stated then, and has continued
to reiterate ever since, that no court should inquire into
the validity or plausibility of the beliefs; instead, the
task of a court is "to decide whether the beliefs
professed by a registrant are sincerely held and whether they
are, in [the believer's] own scheme of things,
religious." Applying the same test later in
Welsh v. United States, the Court made clear that
belief in God or divine beings was not necessary; nontheistic
beliefs could also be religious within the meaning of the
statute as long as they "occupy in the life of that
individual 'a place parallel to that filled by . . .
God' in traditionally religious
Court has specifically considered how a belief may occupy a
place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally
religious persons. In Malnak v. Yogi, confronted
with this question, Judge Adams in a concurrence investigated
definitions of religion from the time of the Framing of the
Constitution. These definitions tended to revolve around
belief in God. Finding them inadequate, Judge Adams
proposed a modern definition of religion. We later
adopted this definition in Africa v. Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, describing it as follows:
First, a religion addresses fundamental and ultimate
questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters.
Second, a religion is comprehensive in nature; it consists of
a belief-system as opposed to an isolated teaching. Third, a
religion often can be recognized by the presence of certain
formal and external signs.
definition has met with considerable agreement.