If You Cannot Fire Her For Being Single and Pregnant Can You Fire Her For Using ART?

I’m back to the blog after a holiday weekend (and the real start of spring in the NW).  I promise to come back to the Donaldson report on adoption but to get started I needed something small and simple.   So I’ll start with this story, though in truth I’m not sure where it fits in the grand scheme of things.

Christa Dias was a computer teacher in a Catholic school run by the archdiocese of Cincinnati.   She was single and wanted to be a parent.  She used assisted insemination to do just that.  At some point she told the Archdiocese that she was pregnant and would need maternity leave.

The Archdiocese fired her.   It appears its first impulse was to do so because she was pregnant and unmarried–which is not consistent with Catholic teaching.    It says that the defendant then learned that this might violate state and federal employment law.   (My guess is that this is because you cannot discriminate based on marital status.   Thus, if you wouldn’t fire a married woman who became pregnant you cannot fire an unmarried one who does so.  Doing this is treating people differently because of marital status.)

But rather than not fire her, the Archdiocese tried to fire her by a different route:   It said fired her because she using artificial insemination, which is also against church teaching.   Apparently this, too, runs afoul of antidiscrimination laws (but I am not sure exactly which ones) but the Archdiocese tried to justify its decision by invoking the “ministerial exception.”

The key thing to note here is the scope of the “ministerial exception” to general anti-discrimination principles.    Churches (and other religious bodies) can discriminate in ways consistent with their principles but inconsistent with general laws if the person will “minister to the faithful.”  To take the obvious example, the Roman Catholic Church can refuse to employ women in various positions.  This would ordinarily be a violation of non-discrimination laws but clearly falls within the ministerial exception.

The court here held that a computer teacher in a Catholic school doesn’t fall within the exception and so retains the protections of anti-discrimination law.   Which takes me back to thinking about the law.

Should you be able to discriminate against people who use AI (as opposed to thosee who become pregnant by intercourse)?   Why?   Pregnant is pregnant.   It’s doubtful that the Archdiocese would have been any happier if Dias had gotten pregnant via intercourse, really, since she wasn’t married.  Indeed, it seems to me the core problem is that she was unmarried.    Could you/should you be allowed to discriminate based on manner of pregnancy?

In essential ways, the law does discriminate in just that way.  So it’s really something to think about.

5 responses to “If You Cannot Fire Her For Being Single and Pregnant Can You Fire Her For Using ART?

  1. julie i believe if you check the discrimination statute you will find that religious educational institutions are exempt; which is perfectly reasonable, they are entiltled to choose as educators, those who convey their message

    • I did a little checking and I think my original post is rather imperfect. (Sigh). There’s a newish Supreme Court case which the court in this case was waiting on. It’s at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/HosannaTabor_Evangelical_Lutheran_Church__Sch_v_EEOC_No_10553_201
      and is a 9-0 opinion.

      The idea (as I read it) is that employment discrimination laws do not apply if 1) the employer is a religious organization and 2) the employee is a “minister.” The question is the scope of that last word–“minister” or, as the courts seem to be calling it, the scope of the “ministerial exception.” To take the extreme, if the religious organization hires a painter, it is likely bound by anti-discrimination laws, because the painter isn’t (by any stretch of the imagination I can see) a minister. But this is just developing territory.

      The question here will be whether the computer science teacher falls within the ministerial exception and the trial court’s ruling is that she does not. Thus, conventional anti-discrimination laws apply to her. (I’m not sure which anti-discrimination laws were invoked.)

      It’s not clear to me that all educators are going to fall within the ministerial exception–it might depend on what they teach? But this could be a case that helps draw the lines.

  2. Both engaging in sexual acts outside of marriage and reproducing asexually are against Catholic teaching. The difference, I presume, is that engaging in a sexual act could have been a thoughtless mistake made in the heat of passion, and thus understandable, as humans are weak, etc., but using ART is a deliberate, conscious decision.

    • Right–good distinction to observe. But I’m not even sure I was on the right track for what the asserted discrimination was. I am afraid I need to find the actual case to figure that out. Will try.

      • Okay–a little more info. Dias is not a Catholic (and was not required to be one, obviously). The defendant says it fired her because she violated a term in her contract–one that obliged her to abide by teachings of the church. The church, as you say, does not approve of AI and so she did act in a way contrary to church teaching. The judge decided there was a factual question about whether, as a non-Catholic, Dias would have known about church teaching on AI. This seems to me to imply that if she didn’t know then she cannot be fired, but now I am way beyond my comfort level about employment law.

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