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Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Soc'y, Inc. v. Bridgewater

Supreme Court of Indiana

January 6, 2015

FISHERS ADOLESCENT CATHOLIC ENRICHMENT SOCIETY, INC., Appellant / Cross-Appellee (Respondent below),
ELIZABETH BRIDGEWATER O/B/O ALYSSA BRIDGEWATER, Appellee / Cross-Appellant (Complainant below)

Appeal from Final Order of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. Nos. EDha08100620 & EDrt08110681. The Honorable Robert D. Lange, Administrative Law Judge. On Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 93A02-1202-EX-145.

FOR APPELLANT: David L. Swider, Bryan H. Babb, Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana; Patrick T. Gillen, Naples, Florida; Thomas L. Brejcha, Peter C. Breen, Thomas More Society, Chicago, Illinois.

FOR APPELLEE: Nelson A. Nettles, Cynthia E. Lasher, Norris Choplin Schroeder LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

FOR AMICI CURIAE: Michael C. Healy, Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dickson, Justice. Rush, C.J., and David and Massa, JJ., concur. Rucker, J., dissents in part with separate opinion.


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Dickson, Justice.

The authority of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission is limited to that delegated by statute. Here, in responding to allegations of discrimination arising from an inter-group squabble over the type of meal to be served to a group member's allergic child, the Commission exceeded its authority because the alleged discriminatory practice did not relate to education, a statutory prerequisite for the Commission's exercise of authority.

Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society, Inc. (FACES)[1] was formed in 2006 by two Catholic mothers. At the time this dispute arose, FACES was comprised of a group of a dozen or so families who had associated together " to provide homeschool high schoolers with Catholic educational, spiritual, and social enrichment." Record Vols. 4, 6 at 431, 988. These opportunities included classes in academic subject matter as well as a Right to Life March and social events such as paintball and laser tag, ski trips, and holiday parties. Record Vol. 12 at 255. FACES accepts members from varying faiths, although, at the time this action was brought, only two of the eleven families and one instructor was non-Catholic. Record Vols. 4, 12 at 431, 257 and 259.

In fall 2008, FACES planned an " All Souls' Day Masquerade Ball" dinner-dance social event to coincide with the Catholic feast day of All Souls' Day on November 2.[2] FACES's intent, motivated by an article in the National Catholic Register, was " to put the focus on [their] Catholic holidays as opposed to the focus of Halloween." Record Vols. 4, 5 at 443, 694. In planning the event, a FACES member parent, Mrs. Bridgewater, requested special dietary accommodations for her daughter who planned to attend. Her daughter suffers from a dietary condition that can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction in which her ability to breathe and swallow would be impaired or even stopped altogether if she ate certain foods including chicken. When Mrs. Bridgewater learned that the menu for the dinner-dance included chicken, she requested that her daughter be served a steak. After FACES declined that request, Mrs. Bridgewater again requested a steak, offering to pay the price difference, or in the alternative, a hamburger. FACES denied that request as well but granted Mrs. Bridgewater's subsequent request to permit her daughter to bring her own dinner, although there would be no ticket-price adjustment to account for her daughter not needing the included dinner. The dispute continued. On October 8, 2008, Mrs. Bridgewater changed her mind and made another request that her daughter be served a beef meal prepared by the event venue, but was again rebuffed. The next day, Mrs. Bridgewater on behalf of her daughter, filed a complaint with the Commission, alleging FACES refused a reasonable accommodation for her daughter and therefore discriminated against her due to her disability. Ultimately, even although FACES had instructed her not to contact

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the event venue, Mrs. Bridgewater made arrangements with the event venue for her daughter to be served a separate meal, which she paid for. Her daughter attended the dinner-dance without incident, but four days later on November 6, FACES expelled the Bridgewater family. Mrs. Bridgewater then filed a second complaint with the Commission, alleging FACES expelled the Bridgewater family in unlawful retaliation for filing the disability discrimination claim.

FACES filed a motion to dismiss both the claims on the basis that the Commission did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over FACES under Indiana's Civil Rights Law because FACES was a religious organization--not an educational one as Mrs. Bridgewater claimed. After a hearing, an administrative law judge for the Commission denied the motion to dismiss on the ground that the Commission had jurisdiction because FACES as a group related to education. The Commission affirmed and consolidated the disability and retaliatory discrimination claims for further proceedings. The administrative law judge later entered an order with findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that FACES did not commit an unlawful discriminatory practice because it had provided a reasonable accommodation for Mrs. Bridgewater's daughter's dietary needs--but that FACES did commit an unlawful discriminatory practice when it expelled the Bridgewater children after they filed the disability discrimination complaint. The administrative law judge ruled that Mrs. Bridgewater's daughter should be awarded $5,000 in damages and that FACES should take corrective action. Order, Appellant's App'x at 523. Both parties appealed the order to the Commission. FACES challenged the administrative law judge's conclusions regarding jurisdiction, retaliation, and corrective action. The Bridgewaters challenged the administrative law judge's conclusions regarding the disability accommodation and damages. The Commission issued its final order, incorporating the administrative law judge's rulings in all respects, except for reducing damages.

FACES appealed, and Mrs. Bridgewater cross-appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. See Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Soc'y, Inc. v. Bridge-water ex rel. Bridgewater, 990 N.E.2d 29, 49 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013), trans. granted, vacated. The Court of Appeals reversed the Commission's order requiring FACES to post a link to the Commission's final order on numerous websites but affirmed the Commission's order in all other respects. Id. Having previously granted transfer, we address FACES's dispositive claim ...

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