United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. Chang United States District Judge
Stanislaw Sterlinski filed this suit against the Catholic
Bishop of Chicago, alleging national origin discrimination
and retaliation, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e et seq., as well as age discrimination and
retaliation, in violation of the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et
seq. R. 1, Compl. In particular, Sterlinski claimed
that the Catholic Bishop had demoted him because of his
national origin and age, and then fired him when he
complained of the demotion. Id. (Count 1 ¶ 12;
Count 2 ¶ 14; Count 3 ¶ 12; Count 5 ¶ 18). In
August 2016, the Court dismissed Sterlinski's complaint
without prejudice on the ground that Sterlinski's claims
are barred by the First Amendment's “ministerial
exception.” R. 23, 8/23/16 Opinion at 2.
has since filed an amended complaint, asserting all of the
same claims, but this time alleging how the demotion affected
his job duties as the church's Director of Music. R. 24,
Am. Compl. (Count 1 ¶ 13). This is the only substantive
difference between the original and amended complaints. The
Catholic Bishop now moves to dismiss Sterlinski's amended
complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),
arguing that the ministerial exception still bars
Sterlinski's claims. R. 26, Mot. to Dismiss Am. Compl.
For the reasons stated below, the Catholic Bishop's
motion is granted in part and denied in part, and limited
discovery is directed on the issue of whether Sterlinski was
a “minister”-within the meaning of the
ministerial exception-at the time of his firing.
purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the
allegations in Sterlinski's amended complaint.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Sterlinski was hired by the Catholic Bishop in July 1992 to
serve as the Director of Music at St. Stanislaus Bishop and
Martyr Parish. Am. Compl. (Count 1 ¶¶ 9, 11-12).
Sterlinski's duties as Director of Music included:
selecting liturgical music, teaching music to the children at
Polish School, participating in the budget process, attending
Archdiocesan Music Committee activities, and holding
practices for the church choirs. See id. (Count 1
¶ 13). Sterlinski was also required to maintain his own
music skills. Id.
2014, Sterlinski was demoted from a full-time position to a
part-time position without benefits. Am. Compl. (Count 1
¶¶ 12, 14). Sterlinski, who is of Polish descent,
was 68 years old at the time. Id. (Count 1 ¶
10; Count 3 ¶ 9). As a result of the demotion, all of
Sterlinski's duties as Director of Music were taken away,
and he became a “mere … organist” at
church functions. Id. (Count 1 ¶ 13 (internal
quotation marks omitted)).
Catholic Bishop claims that Sterlinski was demoted because of
a budgetary deficit. Am. Compl. (Count 1 ¶ 15).
Sterlinski, however, alleges that this explanation is
pretextual because the church's financial records suggest
that it had a profit of $82, 000 as of November 1, 2014,
which was $20, 000 more than in 2013. Id. (Count 1
¶ 16). Sterlinski contends that he was actually demoted
because of his national origin and age. Id. (Count 1
¶ 12; Count 3 ¶ 12). He bases this on the fact that
the pastor that demoted him had made comments about
Sterlinski (1) not being “Roman” and (2)
“getting old.” Id. (Count 1 ¶ 17;
Count 3 ¶ 17 (internal quotation marks omitted)).
complained to the Catholic Bishop about his national-origin
and age-based demotion, Am. Compl. (Count 2 ¶ 20; Count
5 ¶ 18), and-in December 2014-he was fired, id.
(Count 1 ¶ 18). Sterlinski then filed a discrimination
charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Catholic
Bishop, alleging national origin and age discrimination, as
well as retaliatory discharge. R. 24-1, Exh. A, Discrimination
Charge. The EEOC issued a right to sue letter, see
R. 24-1, Exh. B, Right to Sue Letter, and Sterlinski brought
original complaint, Sterlinski claimed that the Catholic
Bishop had discriminated against him-by demoting and
terminating him-because of his age and national origin, in
violation of Title VII and the ADEA. Compl. (Count 1
¶¶ 12-19; Count 5 ¶¶ 12-19). Sterlinski
also claimed that the Catholic Bishop had retaliated against
him-by firing him-for complaining about his discriminatory
demotion, in violation of Title VII and the ADEA.
Id. (Count 2 ¶¶ 9-21; Count 5 ¶¶
8-19). Finally, Sterlinski claimed that the Catholic
Bishop's violations of the ADEA were intentional and in
reckless disregard of his rights. Id. (Count 4
¶ 22). The Catholic Bishop moved to dismiss
Sterlinski's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground
that his claims were barred by the First Amendment's
ministerial exception. R. 9, Mot. to Dismiss Original Compl.
The Court granted the motion to dismiss, but without
prejudice to give Sterlinski a chance to amend his complaint.
8/23/16 Opinion at 2.
has since filed a new complaint, asserting the same causes of
action, but this time alleging how his job duties changed
after he was demoted. See Am. Compl. The Catholic
Bishop now moves to dismiss Sterlinski's amended
complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that his claims are
still barred by the ministerial exception. See Mot.
to Dismiss Am. Compl.; R. 28, Def.'s Br.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must
contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must
“give the defendant fair notice of what the …
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)
(alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule
“reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is
intended to ‘focus litigation on the merits of a
claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep
plaintiffs out of court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578
F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v.
Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).
motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the
complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of
Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009).
“[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations
“must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth
are those that are factual, rather than mere legal
conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.
explained in the prior Opinion, the ministerial exception is
actually an affirmative defense, see Hosanna Tabor
Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 565
U.S. 171, 195 n.4 (2012), and is neither an exception to
subject matter jurisdiction nor even a failure to state a
claim. 8/23/16 Opinion at 5. Sterlinski, however, has not
objected to the Catholic Bishop's use of Rule 12(b)(6)
and the applicable legal standard is basically the same: the
Court must decide whether, assuming the facts alleged in ...