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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baystate Medical Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 30, 2017




         In this employment discrimination action brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Plaintiff, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), asserts claims on behalf of Stephanie Clarke. The complaint alleges that Ms. Clarke's employment at Baystate Medical Center ("BMC") and Baystate Health Systems ("BHS") (collectively "Defendants") was terminated after she declined Defendants' free influenza vaccination because of her religious beliefs. The complaint further alleges that Defendants' influenza policy required Ms. Clarke to wear a mask after she declined immunization, but the mask prevented her from adequately performing her job in the human resources department.[1]

         Before the court is Defendants' motion to compel answers to interrogatories, which were served on the EEOC pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a).[2] The EEOC has objected to Defendants' requests on various grounds.

         After a hearing and for the following reasons, Defendants' motion to compel is ALLOWED to the extent set forth herein.

         I. Legal Standard

         "Discovery may be obtained as to any non-privileged material relevant to any party's claim or defense that is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." BPP Retail Props., LLC v. N. Am. Roofing Servs., Inc., 300 F.R.D. 59, 61 (D.P.R. 2014) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)). "The party resisting discovery has the burden of showing 'specifically how each interrogatory is not relevant or how each question is overly broad, burdensome or oppressive.'" Id. (quoting Vázquez-Fernández v. Cambridge Coll., Inc., 269 F.R.D. 150, 155-56 (D.P.R. 2010) (internal quotation and citation omitted)); Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4). "Where a response shows that 'the answers as a whole disclose a conscientious endeavor to understand the questions and to answer fully those questions as are proper, [Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(4)] has been satisfied.'" Vázquez-Fernández, 269 F.R.D. at 155 (quoting Sánchez-Medina v. UNICCO Serv. Co., 265 F.R.D. 24, 27 (D.P.R. 2009)). If a party withholds otherwise discoverable information on the basis of privilege, the party must, "'(i) expressly make the claim; and (ii) describe the nature of the documents, communications, or tangible things not produced or disclosed - and do so in a manner that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, will enable other parties to assess the claim.'" BPP Retail Props., LLC, 300 F.R.D. at 61 (citing Rivera v. Kmart Corp., 190 F.R.D. 298, 300 (D.P.R. 2000)); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(5)(A). "If the responding party fails to object or state the reason for the objection timely, he or she may be held to have waived any objection." BPP Retail Props., LLC, 300 F.R.D. at 61 (citing Rivera, 190 F.R.D. at 300).

         II. Analysis

         Defendants' interrogatories that are the subject of their motion to compel can be divided into the following categories: (1) Ms. Clarke's religious beliefs (BSH Interrogatory Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 15) (BMC Interrogatory Nos. 2, 5, 6); (2) Ms. Clarke's performance of her job while wearing a mask (BSH Interrogatory Nos. 11, 16) (BMC Interrogatory Nos. 9, 11); (3) the EEOC's claim that Defendants' influenza immunization policy was implemented with malice or reckless indifference to Ms. Clarke's rights (BSH Interrogatory No. 13); and (4) BMC's claim that it was not Ms. Clarke's employer (BMC Interrogatory Nos. 3 and 4). Each category will be discussed in turn.

         A. Discovery Concerning Ms. Clarke's Religious Beliefs

         "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of, among other things, religion." Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 390 F.3d 126, 133 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)). The statute defines the term "religion" to include: "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). "[I]n general terms, Title VII requires employers . . . to accommodate, within reasonable limits, the bona fide religious beliefs and practices of employees." E.E.O.C. v. Unión Independiente de la Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de P. R., 279 F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. 2002). "The First Circuit applies 'a two-part framework in analyzing religious discrimination claims under Title VII.'" Robinson v. Children's Hosp. Bos., Civil Action No. 14-10263-DJC, 2016 WL 1337255, at *5 (D. Mass. Apr. 5, 2016), appeal dismissed sub nom. Robinson v. Children's Hosp. of Bos., No. 16-1495 (1st Cir. Feb. 23, 2017) (quoting Sánchez-Rodríguez v. AT & T Mobility P. R., Inc., 673 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2012)). First, the plaintiff must make a "'prima facie case that a bona fide religious practice conflicts with an employment requirement and was the reason for the adverse employment action.'" Sánchez-Rodríguez, 673 F.3d at 12 (quoting Cloutier, 390 F.3d at 133). "Second, once the plaintiff has established [a] prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to show that 'it offered a reasonable accommodation or that a reasonable accommodation would be an undue burden.'" Robinson, 2016 WL 1337255, at *5 (quoting Sánchez-Rodríguez, 673 F.3d at 12).

         "The requirement that the employee have a 'bona fide religious belief' is an essential element of a religious accommodation claim." Unión Independiente, 279 F.3d at 55-56. "Title VII does not mandate an employer . . . to accommodate what amounts to a "'purely personal preference.'" Id. at 56 (quoting Vetter v. Farmland Indus., Inc., 120 F.3d 749, 751 (8th Cir. 1997)). In order to satisfy the bona fide religious belief element, "the plaintiff must demonstrate both that the belief or practice is religious and that it is sincerely held." Id. See Redmond v. GAF Corp., 574 F.2d 897, 901 n.12 (7th Cir. 1978). "Title VII's capacious definition of 'religion' includes 'all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief . . . .'" Unión Independiente, 279 F.3d at 56 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j)); see also 29 C.F.R. § 1605.1 ("[R]eligious practices . . . include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. . . . The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee or prospective employee.").

         "Religious beliefs protected by Title VII need not be 'acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others . . .'" but they must be sincerely held. Unión Independiente, 279 F.3d at 56 (quoting Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp't. Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 714 (1981)). "The element of sincerity is fundamental, since 'if the religious beliefs that apparently prompted a request are not sincerely held, there has been no showing of a religious observance or practice that conflicts with an employment requirement.'" Id. (quoting E.E.O.C. v. Ilona of Hungary, Inc., 108 F.3d 1569, 1575 (7th Cir. 1997)).

         While "it is well recognized that courts are poor arbiters of questions regarding what is religious and what is not, " Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale, 311 F.Supp.2d 190, 196 (D. Mass.), aff'd on other grounds sub nom. Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 390 F.3d 126 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing Daniels v. City of Arlington,246 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 2001)), it remains the fact that the EEOC bears ...

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