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Summers v. Whitis

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

December 15, 2016

LINDA G. SUMMERS, Plaintiff,
SALLY WHITIS, in her official capacity as the Harrison County Clerk, and HARRISON COUNTY, INDIANA, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Linda G. Summers, formerly worked as a deputy clerk at the Harrison County Clerk's Office. As part of that job, she was required to process marriage licenses. A few months after the Seventh Circuit affirmed this court's decision to enjoin the state of Indiana from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage, a same-sex couple came to the Clerk's Office in hopes of securing a marriage license. Summers told her boss, Sally Whitis, that she could not process the application. Whitis replied that she was required to do so as part of her job duties, but Summers still refused. Whitis consequently processed the application herself. The next day, Summers submitted a religious accommodation request and Whitis terminated her employment for insubordination.

         Summers filed this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., alleging religious discrimination in the decision to discharge her. All parties now move for summary judgment. The court holds that Summers' religious convictions did not excuse her from performing the ministerial duties associated with processing a marriage license, and therefore GRANTS Defendants' motion and DENIES Summers' motion.

         I. Background

         A. The Harrison County Clerk's Office and Summers' Job Duties

         A Harrison County resident intending to marry is required to obtain a marriage license from either the Harrison County Clerk's Office or the Clerk's Office for the county in which his/her partner resides. Ind. Code §§ 31-11-4-3, 31-11-4-1. The Clerk's Office is responsible for recording marriage applications, including the licenses and certificates of marriage[1], in a book for public record. Ind. Code § 31-11-4-4(b). It is also responsible for collecting a $10.00 fee for the issuance of a marriage license, and remitting that fee to the state treasurer. Ind. Code § 33-32-5-1(a).

         Sally Whitis is, and was at all relevant times, the elected Clerk of Harrison County, Indiana. (Filing No. 45-1, Deposition of Sally Whitis 5:23-25, 10:1-7). As Clerk, Whitis ran the Circuit Court Clerk's Office, the Superior Court Clerk's Office, and the Election Office. (Id. 14:19-25). In that role, she is and was responsible for supervising ten employees, including Summers. (Id. 15:7-10).

         Summers worked in the Superior Court Clerk's Office as a deputy clerk. (Id. 21:18-25, 22:19-23). She had various duties in that position, including processing marriage licenses. (Id. 22:19-23:10). In order to process a marriage license, Summers had to pull up the application (which was completed online by the couple prior to coming to the Clerk's Office), verify that the application was complete, and then print the license. (Filing No. 45-2, Deposition of Linda Summers 39:16-40:1). In her deposition, Summers agreed that, when it came to processing marriage licenses, her duties essentially boiled down to “input[ing] the information and giv[ing] the forms out.” (Id. 114:11-13). She did not solemnize marriages, nor did she personally sign the marriage license or certificate. (Id. 114:5-10).

         B. The Clerk's Office's Adjustment to Indiana's Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages

         On September 4, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that Indiana's refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Baskin v. Bogan, 766 F.3d 648, 672 (7th Cir. 2014). Shortly thereafter, on October 6, the Supreme Court denied Indiana's petition for writ of certiorari, making the Seventh Circuit's ruling final. Bogan v. Baskin, 135 S.Ct. 316 (2014).

         On that same day, the Office of the Indiana Attorney General issued a memorandum to all elected Clerks, stating, in relevant part:

Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it had denied the state's request to hear an appeal of the decision made last month by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. That denial of the state's request means that the 7th Circuit will issue a “mandate” very soon that will implement the injunction issued by Chief Judge Young in June. As soon as that mandate is issued-and it could be as early as today-county clerks will be prohibited from denying marriage licenses to same sex couples so long as all other marriage license requirements are met. It would be advisable to start making necessary preparations to process marriage license applications and issue licenses accordingly.

         (Filing No. 45-3, Attorney General Memorandum).

         On October 22, Whitis sent an e-mail to all Clerk's Office employees, including Summers, stating:

While I was on vacation, the Supreme Court has ordered Indiana to proceed with gay marriages.
Therefore, it is our duty in the Clerk's Office to process those applications. The process in Incite[2] has been modified to accommodate these filings.
Even though it may be against your personal beliefs, we are required by state law to process their applications. We are only doing the paperwork and not performing their ceremony.
I expect everyone to please comply. Thanks.

         (Filing No. 45-4, Whitis E-Mail).

         C. Summers' Refusal to Process a Marriage License for a Same-Sex Couple

         On December 8, 2014, a same-sex couple came to the Superior Court Clerk's Office and requested a marriage license from Summers. (Summers Dep. 59:24-25). Summers noticed that one of the individuals was a woman, but “didn't pay too much attention” to the other person. (Id. 60:2-17). She went to her computer, opened the Incite system, and pulled up the couple's application. (Id. ...

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