The Third Circuit recently held that Michele Curay-Cramer, a former Catholic school teacher who signed her name to a pro-choice newspaper advertisement, could not maintain an action under Title VII against her former employer.
When the advertisement appeared in a Wilmington newspaper on the thirtieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, Curay-Cramer was a teacher at Ursuline Academy. The day the advertisement appeared, she was called into the office of Ursuline’s President, Barbara Griffin. Curay-Cramer was told that the school was “deeply troubled” by her position and that Griffin was considering terminating her employment. Curay-Cramer claims that she objected, asserting the right to protest, without retribution, Ursuline’s stance on abortion. Curay-Cramer was given an opportunity to recant her position. When she refused to do so, Ursuline fired her.
Curay-Cramer sued, claiming that her termination violated Title VII. After the federal district court dismissed her claims, she appealed to the Third Circuit.
The court concluded that Curay-Cramer did not engage in protected activity under Title VII by lending her name to the advertisement. The advertisement did not mention employment discrimination or employment practices at all. The court held that “[t]o turn pro-choice advocacy, unconnected to employment practices, into conduct protected by Title VII would inappropriately stretch the concept of protected activity.”
The court also made clear that an individual’s conduct after an employer has made a decision to terminate is not protected by Title VII. The court held, “If subsequent conduct could prevent an employer from following up on an earlier decision to terminate, employers would be placed in a judicial straight-jacket not contemplated by Congress.”
Finally, the court refused to apply Title VII to Curay-Cramer’s claim that male employees who committed substantially similar offenses were treated differently, because to do so would require the court to assess the relative severity of different offenses of religious doctrine.
Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Academy of Wilmington, No. 04-4628 (3d Cir., June 7, 2006)