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Garrick v. Moody Bible Institute

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 25, 2019

JANAY E. GARRICK, Plaintiff,
v.
MOODY BIBLE INSTITUTE and THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES FOR THE MOODY BIBLE INSTITUTE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Janay Garrick, a former faculty member of Defendant Moody Bible Institute (“Moody”), has sued Moody and its Board of Trustees, alleging that it unlawfully terminated her employment because of her advocacy in favor of women serving as clergy members. Moody moves to dismiss Garrick’s first amended complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), contending that its rights under the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses bar Garrick’s claims.[1] For the reasons that follow, Moody’s motion [68] is granted.

         Background[2]

         Moody is a post-secondary religious educational institution offering both undergraduate and graduate courses of study; it accepts federal financial aid. Pl.’s 3d Modified 1st Am. Compl. (“FAC”) ¶¶ 1, 5, ECF No. 67. Garrick, who is proceeding in this lawsuit pro se, worked at Moody as an Instructor of Communications from December 1, 2014, to December 31, 2017. Id. ¶ 7.

         Prior to being hired by Moody, Garrick was an ordained minister with a Master’s degree in cross-cultural studies and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing and speech communications. Id. ¶ 20. She identifies as an “egalitarian Christian” and believes in gender equality in ministry. Id. ¶ 22. While interviewing at Moody, she informed her superiors of her egalitarian beliefs. Id. Moody hired her with “full knowledge” of her beliefs and twice renewed her contract with this knowledge. Id.

         According to Garrick, she “quickly learned” that Moody “both tolerated and cultivated an environment that was hostile to female faculty and students.” Id. ¶ 24. This was primarily driven by Moody’s “complementarian” doctrine, which “excludes women from certain roles within the church due to their gender, ” id. ¶ 136, as well as Moody’s general stances on gender and sexuality, see Id . ¶¶ 30, 48. The conflict between Moody’s and Garrick’s views played out in a number of ways during her two-year tenure.

         First, before Garrick’s interview in October 2014, Larry Davidhizar, the Vice President and Associate Provost of Faculty, told Garrick to remove the statement that she was an ordained minister from her resume. Id. ¶ 25. Furthermore, when she was hired, administrators did not inform her that she could claim a tax deduction for housing costs as an ordained minister. Id. ¶ 26. Although she took steps to claim the deduction by filing her ordination license with Moody, she lost the opportunity to take the deduction for a full year. Id.

         In February 2015, a lesbian student approached Garrick about hostility she was experiencing because of her sexual orientation. Id. ¶ 30. When Garrick brought the student’s concerns to Tim Arens, the Dean of Student Life, he warned her that Moody had “community living standards.” Id. The student was later expelled. Id.

         In late 2015, Garrick was asked to assist in forming a committee to address women’s concerns on campus-the “Respect for Women Personally and Ministerially” group. Id. ¶ 28. From the outset, this group was “viewed with suspicion and hostility, ” and administrators told Garrick to expect any change to be “small and incremental.” Id.

         Two other female students came to Garrick for help in October 2015 and January 2016, respectively. Id. ¶¶ 31–32. Both students wanted to enter Moody’s Pastoral Ministry Program, but it was closed to women. Id. Garrick helped one of the students lodge a complaint against Moody under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Id. ¶ 35. But Garrick soon came under fire for this advocacy. At the inaugural meeting of the Respect for Women Personally and Ministerially group on February 17, 2016, she was rebuked for filing the complaint and asked how she could have “any integrity.” Id. ¶¶ 36, 113–14.

         Garrick met with Debbie Zelinski, the Vice President of Human Resources, on February 19, 2016, to address the “backlash” she had suffered from her Title IX advocacy, as well as “antagonism” she was suffering from male colleagues in a shared workroom. Id. ¶¶ 29, 115. Zelinski suggested that Garrick should simply avoid the workroom and get her own printer so she could work in her office instead. Id.

         Garrick then met with Davidhizar and Bryan O’Neal, Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty, on February 23. Id. ¶ 38. Davidhizar and O’Neal suggested that she “might not be able to continue in the faculty and told her she should voluntarily leave [Moody].” Id. ¶ 38, 116. Davidhizar additionally instructed Garrick to remove herself from her role in organizing and co-leading the Respect for Women Professionally and Ministerially group. Id. ¶ 117. Garrick resisted their suggestions and continued to fight in favor of female students entering the Pastoral Ministry Program, despite objections from administrators and other faculty members to women preaching. Id. ¶¶ 40–45.

         At a meeting for faculty and administrators in September 2016, Garrick spoke out against a male theology professor’s proposal to require all students to “sign a statement affirming their belief in and adherence to a biblically orthodox position on human sexuality.” Id. ¶ 48. Along with a male faculty member, Garrick submitted a counter-proposal with an “inclusive” message. Id. In response, Davidhizar pulled her into his office the next day and told her that the speech was “inflammatory rhetoric, ” and that she was “not a Moody fit.” Id. ¶ 49. Garrick alleges that her male co-presenter was never subjected to similar disciplinary action. Id.

         Soon thereafter, Garrick submitted a written application for a promotion to Assistant Professor. Id. ¶¶ 50–51. Garrick asserts that she was qualified for the promotion and already had performed the work of an Assistant Professor, such as developing numerous courses, creating “institution-wide initiatives like the publication of a new art and theology journal, ” and developing an educational plan for ESL students. Id. ¶¶ 52–54. Still, Moody denied Garrick’s request, stating that she needed to “improve her fit within the division.” Id. ¶ 55.

         Garrick then underwent a series of performance reviews. She first received an informal performance review on December 3, 2016, from Terry Strandt, Chair of the Music and Media Arts Division, who congratulated her on “two years of excellent service, ” and described her teaching as “concise, clear[, ] and engaging.” Id. ¶ 57.

         But in early 2017, Davidhizar told her that she had “performance and interpersonal issues, ” and that she should not expect to receive a contract renewal following Spring Recess. Id. ¶¶ 59, 120. Moreover, directly contradicting Strandt’s review just months before, Brian Kammerzelt, the head of the Communications Program, told Garrick that Strandt had found her to be performing “below standards, ” and threatened to demote her. Id. ¶ 59.

         Kammerzelt also informed Garrick that she had been subjected to peer reviews, which (according to Garrick) did not apply to male faculty members. Id. ¶ 97(b), 121(d). Garrick asked to see the results, but was never given the information. Id. ¶ 121(g). Garrick eventually received a formal performance review from Strandt on March 30, which criticized her performance. Id. ¶¶ 60, 121(a).

         On April 5, 2017, Garrick received an email stating that Davidhizar would like to meet with her “to discuss [her] vocal non-alignment with [Moody’s] doctrinal statement as it relates to ‘Gender Roles in Ministry.’” Id. ¶ 122. On April 12, she met with Davidhizar and the Vice President of Human Resources. Id. ¶ 61.

         During this meeting, Davidhizar told Garrick that she did not fit in at Moody, and that she was not “aligned with [Moody’s] doctrinal statement as it related to gender roles in ministry.” Id. Faculty members at Moody are required to annually sign its doctrinal statement, which describes certain gender roles for those in ministry. According to Garrick, however, Moody “selectively enforces adherence” to the doctrine, “and this enforcement disproportionately affects female faculty” like herself “who do not ‘align’ or ‘adhere.’” Id. ¶¶ 67(i), 138(b)–139. For instance, there were “key male Moody Radio personnel who did not affirm” the “Gender Roles in Ministry” statement but who remained employed at Moody. Id. ¶ 137.

         Garrick was officially terminated on April 17 or 18, on account of “her egalitarian views on gender roles in ministry.” Id. ¶¶ 62, 124. At the time, she was informed that she could continue teaching until the end of the semester and remain as a non-teaching faculty member until December 31, 2017. Id. ¶ 62. But, on April 26, Moody asked her to leave campus and return her keys without finishing the semester. Id. Garrick asserts that this was in response to her having spoken to students and student reporters about her termination. Id. ¶¶ 62, 124–25.

         Garrick claims that her sudden ouster on April 26 violated the Faculty Manual and Employee Information Guide. The Manual, which Garrick contends is incorporated into the Faculty Contract, provides: “If for some reason a faculty member is not to be retained after the Spring semester, notification will be given to the teacher concerning this decision by the last Friday in November of the Fall semester, except for such serious violations of Institute policy which may result in immediate termination.” Id. ¶¶ 81–85, id. Ex. B, Excerpt from Faculty Manual.

         As a result, Garrick filed an internal grievance on May 17, 2017. Id. ¶ 63. In it, she alleged that Moody already had been aware of her doctrinal disagreement when it hired her and that it was only after she began advocating for students’ Title IX rights that she was fired. Id. ¶¶ 63–64. Garrick alleges that Moody made her grievance process “impossible” and that she was denied “any manner of reasonable due process.” Id. ¶ 126. Still, during the administrative hearing, Davidhizar admitted that Garrick had informed him of her egalitarian views during her interview in October 2014. Id. ¶ 127. Despite this testimony, Moody denied Garrick’s grievance on July 24, 2017, and it also terminated two female professors who had challenged Moody during Garrick’s grievance process. Id. ¶ 66.

         Outside of the events that led to her firing, Garrick alleges that women at Moody were generally subjected to different standards than men. For instance, she says, she was denied a reduced teaching load while completing a terminal degree in her field, even though men were given that accommodation. Id. ¶ 98. Not only that, but she was required to develop and complete five new undergraduate courses, which exceeded her stated responsibilities, while recently hired male instructors were not made to do the same. Id. ¶ 99.

         Furthermore, Garrick claims, female instructors were confined to programs like the Communications Program, while “the more prestigious Bible and Theology Programs” were staffed exclusively by male instructors. Id. ¶¶ 27, 67(e)-(f). Moody’s annual Pastor’s Conference never included female speakers as main session speakers; there were a “disproportionate” number of male to female speakers at required student chapels; and female faculty were denied the opportunity to speak at “President’s Chapel.” Id. ...


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