A jury has fined the Archdiocese of Cincinnati $171,000 for discriminating against a lesbian teacher who they fired from Catholic schools after she became pregnant by artificial insemination.
Christa Dias was fired in 2010 from her job as a computer teacher at two Catholic elementary schools: Holy Family and St. Lawrence.
According to USA Today:
“The archdiocese argued that her employment contract spelled out that she must live within Catholic teachings.
“She countered, though, that she wasn’t a ‘ministerial employee’ whose responsibility included teaching religion or Catholicism.
“A jury agreed with her Monday, after deliberating about eight hours over two days, and found the archdiocese liable.
“The five-woman, three-man jury also awarded her punitive damages of $100,000, and compensatory damages of $71,000. Dias’ attorneys had asked the jury to award her $637,000.
“Dias, who is not Catholic, testified she didn’t know artificial insemination violated church doctrine or the employment agreement. She said she thought the contract clause about abiding by church teachings meant she should be a Christian and follow the Bible.”
The archdiocese had another perspective on the case:
“Steven Goodin, the attorney for the archdiocese and the schools, said Dias was fired for violating her contract and that Dias, who is gay, never intended to abide by it.
“She kept her sexual orientation a secret because she knew that homosexual acts also would violate that contract, Goodin said.
“Neither Dias nor the archdiocese claim she was fired because she is gay.”
The archdiocese has not decided to appeal the case, though, some experts feel that because the case has such wide implications for religious employment practices that an appeal is very likely. According to The Washington Post:
“Jessie Hill, a professor of civil rights and constitutional law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, believes the “ministerial exception” issue could be raised on appeal.
“The archdiocese argued before trial that Dias, who was a computer technology teacher, was a ‘ministerial employee,’ a position that has not been clearly defined by the courts.
“The Supreme Court has said religious groups can dismiss those employees without government interference. But Klingler insisted Dias had no such ministerial duties, and the Cincinnati court found she was not a ministerial employee and that the issue couldn’t be argued at trial.
“Hill said the Supreme Court has left ‘uncertainty about who is and who isn’t a ministerial employee,’ and she expects the case would be “closely watched at the appellate level.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
May 28, 2013: Catholics, contracts and insemination suit continues, Cincinnati.com
May 29, 2013: Catholic school teacher fired after artificial insemination pregnancy takes stand, CBSNews.com
May 29. 2013: Archdiocese lawyers: Ex-teacher looked for ‘loopholes’, Cincinnati.com