Federal employment laws that religious institutions in Denver must follow often try to balance the rights of employees not to be discriminated against or wrongfully terminated against the employers’ right to practice its religion. In a recent wrongful termination case in another state, the court interpreted the law to say that a Catholic archdiocese did not have the right to fire a teacher because she got pregnant outside of marriage.
The plaintiff sued the archdiocese for employment discrimination after being fired in 2010 from her position teaching computer technology at two Catholic schools. The archdiocese reportedly fired her after learning that the plaintiff, who is a lesbian, had become pregnant through artificial insemination.
The church argued that the out-of-wedlock pregnancy violated a clause in the plaintiff’s employment contract that required her to obey church teachings. Her being gay also violated the contract, attorneys for the diocese contended, calling the termination a “matter of principle.”
Employment law generally prohibits termination for marital status or sexual orientation. But there is an exception for “ministerial” employees of religion-based organizations. Despite the fact that the plaintiff taught computers, not anything directly tied to Catholicism, the archdiocese claimed that she was a ministerial employee and therefore could be fired due to her marital status and sexual orientation.
The jury disagreed. It recently awarded the plaintiff more than $170,000 in damages. The plaintiff said that she was pleased with the verdict. She said that she filed suit to prove that the archdiocese broke the law.
The archdiocese has not announced whether it will appeal the verdict, though observers widely expected it to do so.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Legal experts expect Cininnati Archdiocese to appeal jury finding for fired pregnant teacher,” Lisa Cornwell, June 4, 2013