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Morrissey-Berru v. Our Lady of Guadalupe Sch.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

April 11, 2019, Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California; April 30, 2019, Filed

No. 17-56624


 [*460]  MEMORANDUM2

Agnes Deirdre Morrissey-Berru brought a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") against her former employer, Our Lady of Guadalupe School (the "School"). The only issue reached by this Court is whether the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the School on the basis that Morrissey-Berru was a "minister" for purposes of the ministerial exception. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we reverse.3

This Court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo and views the evidence in the light most favorable to the [**2]  non-moving party. Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Med., 363 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2004).

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court recognized the ministerial exception  [*461]  for the first time, 565 U.S. 171, 188, 132 S. Ct. 694, 181 L. Ed. 2d 650 (2012), and considered the following four factors in analyzing whether the exception applied: (1) whether the employer held the employee out as a minister by bestowing a formal religious title; (2) whether the employee's title reflected ministerial substance and training; (3) whether the employee held herself out as a minister; and (4) whether the employee's job duties included "important religious functions," id. at 191-92. Hosanna expressly declined to adopt "a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister," and instead considered "all the circumstances of [the employee's] employment." Id. at 190.

Considering the totality of the circumstances in this case, we conclude that the district court erred in concluding that Morrissey-Berru was a "minister" for purposes of the ministerial exception. Unlike the employee in Hosanna-Tabor, Morrissey-Berru's formal title of "Teacher" was secular. Aside from taking a single course on the history of the Catholic church, Morrissey-Berru did not have any religious credential, training, or ministerial [**3]  background. Morrissey-Berru also did not hold herself out to the public as a religious leader or minister.

Morrissey-Berru did have significant religious responsibilities as a teacher at the School. She committed to incorporate Catholic values and teachings into her curriculum, as evidenced by several of the employment agreements she signed, led her students in daily prayer, was in charge of liturgy planning for a monthly Mass, and directed and produced a performance by her students during the School's Easter celebration every year. However, an employee's duties alone are not dispositive under Hosanna-Tabor's framework. See Biel v. St. James Sch., 911 F.3d 603, 609 (9th Cir. 2018). Therefore, on balance, we conclude that the ministerial exception does not bar Morrissey-Berru's ADEA claim.4 See id. at 608-11 (holding that the ministerial exception did not apply under similar circumstances).

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769 Fed. Appx. 460 *; 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 13031 **; 2019 WL 1952853

AGNES DEIRDRE MORRISSEY-BERRU, an individual, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE SCHOOL, a California non-profit corporation, Defendant-Appellee.


Subsequent History: US Supreme Court certiorari granted by Our Lady of Guadalupe Sch. v. Morrissey-Berru, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 7617 (U.S., Dec. 18, 2019)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. 2:16-cv-09353-SVW-AFM. Stephen V. Wilson, District Judge, Presiding.

Morrissey-Berru v. Our Lady of Guadalupe Sch., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 217504 (C.D. Cal., Sept. 27, 2017)

Disposition: REVERSED.


ministerial, religious, circumstances, district court, purposes, training, Teacher, Church