United States District Court, W.D. New York
June 6, 2005.
JANET C. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
DIOCESE OF ROCHESTER, ALL SAINTS PARISH, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL TELESCA, Senior District Judge
DECISION and ORDER
Plaintiff Janet Anderson ("Anderson") brings this action
pursuant to Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,
42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq, ("ADA") and the New York State Human Rights Law
claiming that she was discriminated against by the defendant on
the basis of her alleged disability. Specifically, plaintiff
claims that she was fired from her employment because she suffers
or suffered from a liver disorder which necessitated a liver
transplant, and kidney disease requiring dialysis.
By motion dated October 8, 2004, defendant Diocese of Rochester
(the "Diocese") moves for summary judgment against the plaintiff
on grounds that the defendant was not plaintiff's employer, and
therefore, cannot be held liable to her for employment
discrimination. In support of this argument, defendant notes that
the plaintiff worked at All Saints Parish, ("All Saints") and
therefore All Saints, which is a separate corporate legal entity, distinct from the Diocese of Rochester, is plaintiff's
employer. Plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion on grounds that the
Diocese is either the plaintiff's employer or joint employer. In the
alternative, plaintiff contends that the Diocese may be held liable because
All Saints is so closely related to the Diocese and shares an identity of
interest with it.
For the reasons set forth below, I find that the defendant was
not plaintiff's employer, and therefore may not be held liable to
the plaintiff for a claim of employment discrimination.
Plaintiff Janet C. Anderson was hired by St. Mary's Church as a
church secretary in May, 1989. In 1997, Anderson was diagnosed
with liver disease, and for much of 1998 and early 1999, was on
medical leave, during which time she received a liver transplant.
In 2001, St. Mary's, which had previously consolidated operations
with other churches in the area, merged with those parishes to
become a single corporate entity named All Saints Parish. Also in
2001, plaintiff was diagnosed with kidney disease, and was
required to begin dialysis.
In June, 2003, plaintiff's employment with All Saints was terminated.
Plaintiff alleges that she was told by two of her supervisors that her
employment was terminated because of her health condition. Defendant denies
plaintiff's claim and contends that All Saints discontinued plaintiff's
employment in an effort to reduce costs. Moreover, defendant contends that it can not be
held liable to the plaintiff because the Diocese was not
Anderson's employer. Defendant claims that it neither hired nor
fired nor controlled plaintiff's employment, and therefore, it
cannot be liable to her.
Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the New York
State Division of Human Rights in July, 2003. Plaintiff named as
the respondent in that action the "Diocese of Rochester, All
Saints Parish." The Diocese responded to the administrative
complaint by stating, inter alia, that All Saints Parish was
the plaintiff's employer. The New York State Division of Human
Rights investigated plaintiff's allegations and found no probable
cause for the complaint. The EEOC adopted the findings of the New
York State Division of Human Rights, and on May 14, 2004, issued
to the plaintiff a right to sue letter. Thereafter, plaintiff
filed the instant complaint.
I. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides
that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
When considering a motion for summary judgment, all inferences and ambiguities must
be resolved in favor of the party against whom summary judgment
is sought. R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54 (2nd Cir.
1997). If, after considering the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, the court finds that no
rational jury could find in favor of that party, a grant of
summary judgment is appropriate. Annis v. County of
Westchester, 136 F.3d 239, 247 (2nd Cir. 1998).
II. The Defendant was not Plaintiff's Employer
Defendant contends that it is not liable in this action because
it was not the plaintiff's employer. It is axiomatic that only an
employer may be liable for employment discrimination. In
determining whether or not a party is an "employer" for purposes
of ADA liability, courts consider: "whether the party had
authority to hire or fire the plaintiff, supervise her work or
conditions of employment, determine her rate or method of pay, or
maintain records of her employment." Bordeau v. Housing Works,
Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. Lexis 5313 at *13 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).
In the instant case, the defendant has set forth evidence that
the Diocese: (1) had no authority to hire or fire the plaintiff;
(2) did not supervise her work or conditions of employment; (3)
did not determine her rate or method of pay; and (4) did not
maintain records of her employment. Based on this evidence, I
find that the Diocese was not Anderson's employer. The plaintiff, however, attempts to raise questions of fact as
to whether or not the Diocese was plaintiff's employer by citing
numerous church documents, most of which tend to demonstrate that
the Catholic Church is a hierarchical organization with the
Diocese of Rochester standing above All Saints Parish. That the
Diocese stands organizationally superior to All Saints Parish, (a
separate and distinct corporation), however, does not support a
finding that the Diocese is plaintiff's employer. Many spiritual
and temporal organizations utilize separate corporate entities
organized in a hierarchical form to accomplish the business and
goals of the organization. The use of such a structure does not
result in a finding that every corporate entity sitting above the
company that employs a worker is also that worker's employer.
Rather, as stated above, courts look to certain indicia of an
employee employer relationship, such as who hires and fires the
employee; who controls the hours and conditions of employment;
and who determines the rate and method of the employee's pay, to
determine whether an entity is an employee's employer. Applying
that criteria in this case, no reasonable finder of fact could
conclude that the Diocese of Rochester was the plaintiff's
III. The Defendant was not a Co-employer of the Plaintiff
Plaintiff contends that if the Diocese was not her employer, it
was at least her co-employer, and therefore may be held liable to
her under the ADA. An employer may be considered a joint or
co-employer where there is evidence that the putative employer "had immediate
control over the other [entity]'s employees." NLRB v. Solid
Waste Services, Inc., 38 F.3d 93, 94 (2nd Cir. 1994).
Just as there is no evidence that the defendant is the
plaintiff's employer, there is no evidence that the defendant is
a joint employer of the plaintiff. As stated above, there is no
evidence that the Diocese exerted any control over the employees
of All Saints Parish. That fact distinguishes this case from the
case relied on by the plaintiff, Gargano v. Diocese of Rockville
Center, 888 F.Supp. 1274 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). In Gargano, the
District Court held that the Catholic Diocese in that case was
the joint employer of a teacher who worked at a parish school
operated under the auspices of the Diocese. In that case, it was
clear that the Diocese ultimately had the right to hire and fire
teachers. Gargano, 888 F.Supp. 1274, 1282-83. In the instant
case, defendant has presented uncontroverted evidence that it
lacked authority to hire or fire the plaintiff, and therefore, I
find that the defendant was not Anderson's joint employer.
IV. Defendant does not share an Identity of Interest with All
Plaintiff alleges that the Diocese is a proper defendant in
this action because it shares an identity of interest with All
Saints, and therefore may be jointly liable for any employment
discrimination practiced by All Saints. In support of this
argument, plaintiff notes that the Diocese was the respondent in the administrative proceedings brought prior to the commencement
of this action, and therefore the Diocese is the proper defendant
in this case.
In employment discrimination cases, where the plaintiff is
first obligated to file an administrative claim to gain
jurisdiction in federal court over a defendant, the "identity of
interest" test is typically used to gain jurisdiction over an
otherwise proper defendant that was not named in the
administrative proceeding. The "identity of interest" test is a
remedial rule that allows a court to prevent an injustice where
the putative defendant shares such similar interests with the
named respondent in the administrative proceedings that allowing
the putative defendant to avoid potential liability would work a
hardship against the plaintiff. In determining whether or not two
parties share an identity of interest, courts consider: (1)
whether or not the unnamed respondent could have been identified
by reasonable effort to detect that party; (2) whether, under the
circumstances of the action, the interests of the unnamed
respondent are so similar to the interests of the named
respondent that for purposes of conciliation and compliance, it
would have been unnecessary to have included the unnamed party in
the EEOC proceedings; (3) whether the unnamed party's absence
from the EEOC proceedings resulted in actual prejudice to the
unnamed respondent, and (4) whether the unnamed party represented
to the complainant that its relationship with the complainant existed through the named
party. Johnson v. Palma, 931 F.2d 203, 209-210 (2nd Cir. 1991).
In this case, however, the Diocese was a respondent in the
underlying action brought by the plaintiff. As such the identity
of interest test is inapplicable as a method for invoking
jurisdiction over the Diocese. Moreover, during the
Administrative proceedings, the Diocese affirmed that it was
not plaintiff's employer, and that instead, All Saints employed
Anderson. Thus, there is no evidence that the Diocese attempted
to deceive plaintiff into thinking that the Diocese, and not All
Saints, was her employer. Accordingly I find that the identity of
interests test does not apply in this case, and therefore can not
be used to attempt to gain jurisdiction over the Diocese.
For the reasons set forth above, I find that the Diocese of
Rochester was not plaintiff's employer or joint-employer, and
therefore cannot be held liable to her for alleged employment
discrimination. Moreover, there is no other legal or equitable
basis for holding defendant liable for the alleged actions of
plaintiff's employer, All Saints. Accordingly, I grant
defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismiss plaintiff's
Complaint with prejudice.
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SO ORDERED.
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