I.EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION ISSUES
The Third Circuit Further Explains When a Ministerial Employee May Bring Suit Against a Religious Institution.
In Petruska v. Gannon University, _ F.3d _, 2006 WL 2548343 (3d. Cir. September 6, 2006), former University Chaplain Lynette Petruska appealed 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, the private Catholic diocesan college that employed her from July 16, 1997 until October 15, 2002.
Plaintiff filed suit against Gannon University, a Catholic institution, and various Gannon University officials (collectively, “Gannon”), alleging in detail that Gannon, acting without any religious or ecclesiastical motivation, demoted her because she is a woman, and because she opposed sexual harassment by Gannon officials.
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. The Third Circuit has not previously ruled on the viability or the scope of the ministerial exception. The Court stated, “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.”
The Court held that 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 did 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, the Third Circuit affirmed 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.
The Third Circuit remanded her breach of contract claim for further consideration by the District Court holding:
In Two Recent Cases, the Court Explains When the Ninety-Day Clock Starts to Run for Plaintiffs to Bring Discrimination Suits, Within 90-Days of Receiving Notice of Final Agency Action from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
In Carter v. Potter, 2006 WL 2583569 (E.D. Pa. September 5, 2006), the plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the Court's decision to grant the defendant's Motion to Dismiss this workplace discrimination case on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to bring suit within 90-days of receiving a notice of final agency action, also known as a right to sue letter, from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The plaintiff had conceded that he had received his right to sue letter more than 90-days before filing suit. The plaintiff then argued that his claim should be considered timely because it was filed within 90-days of his attorney's receiving a copy of the plaintiff's right to sue letter. In support, the plaintiff cited new authority that he had not previously submitted to the Court, including an EEOC regulation providing that, when a plaintiff is represented by counsel, the timeframe for his receiving materials from the agency is to be computed from the time that the materials were received by his attorney. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.605(d).
The plaintiff's additional authority did not change the Court's conclusion that his claim was time-barred. The EEOC regulation that the plaintiff cites is binding only for administrative proceedings before the EEOC, not for federal lawsuits. Federal courts have consistently held that the statutory 90-day time period for filing a discrimination claim begins to run when either the plaintiff or his attorney receives a copy of the right-to-sue letter, whichever occurs first. The Court held that, because the plaintiff admited that he received his right-to-sue letter more than 90-days before filing suit, his claim was time-barred.
In Taylor v. WHYY, Inc., 2006 WL 2711748 (E.D. Pa. September 20, 2006), Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint and Motion to Vacate the Court’s June 30, 2005 Order. The issue raised by Defendant’s Motion was whether Plaintiff Tammy Taylor's action against her former employer, WHYY, Inc., (“WHYY”), brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, (the “ADA”), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), was time-barred by the statute of limitations set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Defendant argued that Plaintiff's May 8, 2003 Complaint was time-barred under § 2000e-5(f)(1), because it was filed three days after the 90-day period expired.
The Court held that Plaintiff’s Complaint was not time-barred stating:
The Court further provided:
Accordingly, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.
II. PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY ISSUES
The Pennsylvania Superior Court Declines to Extend the Reach of the MCARE Act to Cases Wholly Unrelated to Medical Professional Liability.
In McManamon v. Washko, 2006 WL 2523025, (Pa. Super. August 31, 2006), Washko was driving a motor vehicle for Greater Hazleton Health Alliance. While in the course of his employment as a courier, Washko's motor vehicle struck McManamon, a 41 year-old single mother of three. McManamon was working as a flag person on a paving project adjacent to the Airport Beltway in Hazleton Township. At the time of impact, Appellee was wearing an orange helmet and reflective vest and was carrying an orange flag. The project area was posted with road work warning signs. McManamon suffered serious and permanent physical injuries in the accident.
Appellants, Washko and Greater Hazleton Health Alliance, sought determination whether the trial court erred when it denied their post-trial motions for a new trial and/or remittitur of the verdict in this personal injury action. The Superior Court held, inter alia, that the trial court properly refused to grant remittitur in general or to apply the remittitur provisions of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (“MCARE”) Act to this case. This Court held the present case did not involve liability-producing conduct arising from the rendition of professional medical services. The Court stated:
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