Jury Trial Set for Pregnancy Case
Last week a US district court judge ruled in favor of an unmarried computer technology coordinator fired from her job at two Archdiocese of Cincinnati elementary schools after she had herself artificially inseminated and became pregnant. Judge S. Arthur Spiegel upheld two of her claims, granted the Archdiocese a summary judgement on a contract claim, and recommended the case to a jury trial.
Crista Dias sued the Archdiocese for pregnancy discrimination, saying that she was fired contrary to a law that prohibits employers firing women for pregnancy. At the time, she worked at Holy Family and St. Lawrence Schools.
The Archdiocese argued that Ms. Dias had signed a contract containing a morals clause saying she would refrain from actions that were not consistent with an employee of the Catholic Church, that as a role model for children she was covered by the “ministerial exemption” that permits churches and church-related groups to fire ministers that don’t meet their standards, and that Catholic schools are not run by the Archdiocese but (like Catholic parishes) operate independently.
In his opinion, Judge Spiegel said that Ms. Dias could not be considered a minister because she did not teach Catholic doctrine, and that firing an employee for being unmarried and pregnant through artificial insemination could be construed as amounting to the same thing as firing her for being pregnant at all. Judge Spiegel also ruled that the Archdiocese exerts enough administrative controls (though uniform employment contracts, evaluations, etc.) over the schools in the system to be the legitimate party in the case.
Judge Spiegel cited case law showing that religious institutions firing women for having sex outside of marriage was legal as long as they also fired men for the same reason. A jury trial, he said, was the only way to determine whether Ms. Dias was fired for having extramarital sex (a rule that can be applied to men and women) or for being pregnant (a rule that can only be applied to women), or whether or not a policy that prohibits artificial insemination for women can be applied equally to men.
Judge Spiegel did find against the defendant’s claim against the morals clause, dismissing it because Ms. Dias admitted to being involved in a long-term lesbian relationship while working at the schools, and to hiding it from her employers because she knew it would violate the morals clause. Case law has established that a person who violates a contract in once instance, he said, cannot insist on the other party holding to it in another.
The Catholic Church teaches that sex outside of marriage and artificial means of conceiving a child, including in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, are gravely immoral. Moreover, the Church teaches that the use of a sperm donor deprives a child of its right to have a father. In previous employment cases, religious employers have successfully argued that they — not the state — determine who is considered a minister and who is not.
The trial has been scheduled for four days beginning March 19, with a pre-trial conference set for Feb. 27, according to Courthouse News Service.
“We remain convinced that our position is not only morally right, but legally sound,” says Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Photo by David Di Blase, courtesy stock.xchng.