Earlier today, Bondings 2.0 reported on a church worker firing in Michigan about which details were limited. Late yesterday, the fired teacher Barbara Webb clarified that she claims she was fired for becoming pregnant by “nontraditional means” and not her sexual orientation as was initially speculated.
If Webb’s claims are correct, this would be at least the third lesbian educator fired from a Catholic school for becoming pregnant. Neither the high school nor archdiocese have confirmed the reasons for her firing.
In Montana, Shaela Evenson is suing her former employer Butte Central Catholic Schools for breach of contract and discrimination. The former grade school teacher, who is a partnered lesbian woman, was terminated for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Neither party claims Evenson’s sexual orientation was a reason behind the firing. Yet neither church policies nor state law allowed her committed relationship to be recognized as marriage. The Montana Standard reports:
“As a result of the firing, she has incurred damages including lost wages, benefits and emotional distress. She is asking for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages — and a jury trial.
“Evenson taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education at the Catholic school for nine years. She was dismissed Jan. 10 after the Helena Diocese received an anonymous letter about her pregnancy.
“The district has said it fired Evenson for violating the terms of her contract, which required her to practice the tenets of the Catholic faith inside and outside the classroom.”
She has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Evenson is represented by lawyer, Brian Butler, who successfully helped Christa Dias, a computer teacher fired from Cincinnati Catholic schools after becoming pregnant outside of marriage through the use of assistive reproductive technologies. Dias won $171,000 in a 2013 lawsuit that found the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had indeed discriminated against her. In that case, Butler argued that so-called morality clauses often added to church workers’ contracts do not waive employment protections guaranteed under federal, state, and local laws.
Though lesbian women are not alone in having children outside of marriage and becoming pregnant through assistive reproductive technologies, LGBT church workers are doubly affected in areas where marriage equality is not yet law — and by the failure of Catholic officials to respond to same-gender relationships in just ways. How does firing pregnant mothers fit in with the Catholic hierarchy’s pro-life project?
For the good of all, church leaders should reflect this Labor Day on their treatment of LGBT church workers in the context of church teachings on justice, conscience, and human dignity. An honest evaluation would make clear the inconsistencies in their teachings and actions related to church worker justice and LGBT rights.
If church leaders need inspiration, they could always look to Pope Francis’ close ally Cardinal Cláudio Hummes who last week called for a new openness from the church towards same-gender couples.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry