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Sacchi v. IHC Health Services, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 26, 2019

KARNA SACCHI, Plaintiff - Appellant,
IHC HEALTH SERVICES, INC.; JOY SINGH, Defendants - Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah (D.C. No. 2:16-CV-01107-BSJ)

          Christian A. Kesselring, Wasatch Law Group, PLLC, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Plaintiff -Appellant.

          Chad R. Derum (Christopher M. Glauser, with him on the brief), Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar PLLC, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Defendant - Appellee IHC Health Services, Inc.

          Before PHILLIPS, KELLY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.


         Plaintiff-Appellant Karna Sacchi obtained an unpaid internship with Defendant-Appellee IHC Health Services, Inc. (the "Hospital"), but her internship was terminated by Defendant-Appellee Joy Singh before it was scheduled to finish. 1 Aplt. App. 17, 21, 23-24. Ms. Sacchi then filed a complaint alleging: (1) associational discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), (2) sex and religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, (3) age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), (4) breach of contract, and (5) defamation against Ms. Singh. Id. at 13-14. The district court dismissed Ms. Sacchi's federal claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) because it concluded that she was not an employee and therefore not protected under the antidiscrimination statutes. 1 Aplt. App. at 43. The district court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her non-federal claims and dismissed them without prejudice. Id.

         On appeal, Ms. Sacchi asks the court to hold that, in an internship setting, access to professional certification, a path to employment, or both can constitute indirect, significant job-related benefits and thereby satisfy the "threshold-remuneration" test if those benefits are substantial and not incident to the internship. Aplt. Br. at 24-25. In the alternative, Ms. Sacchi asks the court to hold that most unpaid interns are "employees" under federal antidiscrimination statutes. Id. at 25. On the facts alleged in Ms. Sacchi's complaint, we conclude that the benefits claimed are too attenuated and speculative to constitute sufficient remuneration for purposes of this circuit's threshold-remuneration test. Accordingly, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.


         Ms. Sacchi's complaint alleged that she was pursuing a master's degree at Mills College in early childhood education with an emphasis in child life in hospitals, and she sought to become a certified child life specialist. 1 Aplt. App. 16. The Child Life Council requires that applicants for certification complete 480 hours in an internship with an approved institution. Id. at 16. To that end, Ms. Sacchi began an internship with the Hospital, and her internship was originally scheduled to last from August 26, 2015, to December 15, 2015. Id. at 17-18. On November 3, however, Ms. Singh, the Director of Child Life at the Hospital, terminated the internship. Id. at 24. The complaint further alleged that Ms. Singh and the Hospital knew that Ms. Sacchi's father had a disability, that Ms. Sacchi was a single mother and not a member of the LDS church, and that Ms. Sacchi was over 40 years of age. Id. at 5, 22, 26, 28.

         Relevant to this appeal, Ms. Sacchi received no direct payment or other benefits for her work as an intern. Ms. Sacchi alleged, however, that the internship would provide other benefits; namely, it would allow her to satisfy the internship requirement to be certified as a child life specialist, and that it would provide a pathway to employment because "[t]he great majority of newly certified child life specialists obtain paid employment in the field shortly after certification - often with the institutions where they completed their internships." Id. at 16, 21, 26. To be certified as a child life specialist Ms. Sacchi was required to have satisfied three requirements: (1) complete an educational component, (2) complete 480 hours of clinical training, and (3) pass a certification exam. See id. at 16. The Hospital's internship program is designed to satisfy the clinical experience requirement, and the program is accredited and recognized by the Child Life Council. Id. Once Ms. Sacchi completed her internship she would have been qualified to take a certification exam, which most people pass on the first attempt. Id. Given Ms. Sacchi's previous academic performance, she maintains it is likely that she would have passed the exam. Id. at 16-17.

         The district court dismissed Ms. Sacchi's federal claims because it concluded that Ms. Sacchi had not alleged facts sufficient to qualify as an employee for the purposes of the ADA, ADEA, and Title VII and thus did not fall within those statutes' protections. Id. at 43.


         We review a district court's dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim de novo. Young v. Davis, 554 F.3d 1254, 1256 (10th Cir. 2009). We accept all facts alleged in a well-pleaded complaint as true, and we view the facts in the light most favorable to Ms. Sacchi. Potts v. Ctr. for Excellence in Higher Educ., Inc., 908 F.3d 610, 613 (10th Cir. 2018). We also review de novo the legal conclusion whether a person is within the class of persons protected by the statutes under which she claims relief. See id.

         A. Whether Ms. Sacchi Satisfies the ...

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