Two unpublished opinions from the Second Circuit this week bring the EEOC Appellate Division another victory, and bring down the curtain on an aging ADEA case by a clergyman that had previously been the subject of another, widely-publicized appellate decision, Hankins v. Lyght, 441 F.3d 96, 103 (2d Cir. 2006).
EEOC v. Everdry Management Services, Inc., No. 06-5430 (2d Cir. Oct. 14, 2009): In a brief opinion, the panel affirms denial of a judgment as a matter of law in a Title VII sex harassment case brought against two defendants, affirms denial of injunctive relief and affirms damages. The notable point, to me, is that the jury was apparently instructed to decide the integrated enterprise issue: “Although defendants contend that evidence of the interrelation of operations and control of labor relations, see Cook v. Arrowsmith Shelburne, Inc., 69 F.3d 1235 (2d Cir. 1995), between EMM and EMS was insufficient to support the jury’s finding that the two companies constitute a single, integrated enterprise, we agree with the District Court that there is no reason to overturn the jury’s finding.” Very often, this question is treated by courts as one of law (or mixed law-and-fact), but it makes perfect sense that the jury should be allowed to sort it out as a question of fact.
Hankins v. The N.Y. Annual Conf. of the United Methodist Church, No. 07-4556 (2d Cir. Oct. 13, 2009): This case involved a minister fighting mandatory retirement. While most such cases wind up dismissed on the “ministerial exception” (implied in the federal anti-discrimination statutes), this one followed a different course.
In the first Hankins appeal, three years ago, the Second Circuit held — over a dissent by then-Judge Sotomayor — that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq., is constitutional as applied to federal law, and that it amended the ADEA and governed the merits of the case. The case was then remanded for consideration under RFRA.
Returning to the court, with the original Hankins author (Judge Ralph Winter) gone senior, and Judge Sotomayor now a Supreme Court Justice, a rump panel of two judges affirms dismissal, this time on constitutional grounds: “On remand, the district court held that RFRA had displaced the ministerial exception,
although the suit should still be dismissed under RFRA. Hankins v. N.Y. Annual Conf. of the United Methodist Church, 516 F. Supp. 2d 225, 234-35 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (Hankins II). Subsequently, in Rweyemamu v. Cote, 520 F.3d 198, 207 (2d Cir. 2008), we held that the First Amendment compelled the dismissal of a Title VII claim brought by an ordained Catholic priest because his termination was based on allegedly unsatisfactory performance of his religious duties. We also cited with approval Minker v. Balt. Annual Conf. of the United Methodist Church, 894 F.2d 1354, 1355-56 (D.C. Cir. 1990), which held that a constitutional exception to the ADEA existed in the case of a Methodist minister denied a pastorage, allegedly due to his age. The facts in this case parallel those in Rweyemamu and Minker: Hankins’ duties were that of an ordained United Methodist minister, and the basis for his mandatory retirement was a rule contained in the central governing document of the United Methodist Church. RFRA, of course, cannot displace a constitutionally-mandated rule. Accordingly, we hold that the constitutionally-based ministerial exception requires the dismissal of Hankins’ suit.”