Fired Catholic School Teacher Wins Her Case

I’ve been following a case brought by Christa Dias for a long time now.  Dias was a computer science teacher in a Catholic school in Cleveland.  She was single and used assisted insemination to become pregnant.   She was fired and sued.

The archdiocese–defendant in the case–asserted that she was fired because violated Catholic teachings and she had agreed to abide by those teachings when she was hired.   (It’s agreed that using AI violates those teachings.)    But Dias made two claims–first, that the firing amounted to pregnancy discrimination and second, that the diocese didn’t fire men who used AI, but only women who did so.   

Lots of interesting and important issues raised in this context.   There’s a lively discussion about this case in an recent post.

Yesterday the jury ruled for Dias.  It awarded her $71,000 in back pay/compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.  (Punitive damages are awarded to punish bad-behaving defendants.)  Though it doesn’t mention this in the press coverage I’ve looked at, Dias should also be entitled to attorney’s fees, which I imagine will be quite substantial given the amount of work required to bring this case to trial.

I would expect the archdiocese to appeal.  A critical question on appeal will be the scope of a ministerial exception.  Churches can dismiss ministerial employees without being subject to ordinary anti-discrimination statutes, but it isn’t clear who counts as a ministerial employee.  In this case the defendant asserted that Dias was within that category but the court determined she was not.   This is an issue of broad importance and I really would expect to see an appeal on that issue, unless some settlement is reach.    Stay tuned.

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3 responses to “Fired Catholic School Teacher Wins Her Case

  1. Cut and dry if you want to do business in the United States of America you behave like an adult and don’t snivel about how its your right to exclude people based on criteria that is not germane to the situation; If you are selling memberships to a country club the only criteria is going to be can they afford it and can they follow the rules of the house not what gender or religion they are. If you are hiring a supermodel she needs to fit supermodel criteria. If you are hiring waitresses at Hooters part of the job is being a waitress and the other part of the job is being an adult entertainer so you have to look a certain way its all perfectly clear to me.

  2. Employment cases confuse me. I thought employers could fire an employee for any reason that’s not discriminatory. Did the Catholic school get in trouble because of the reason it provided for the termination? If it had just said, “We just don’t like you,” would that have been permissible? This area of the law seems so confusing.

    • You are more or less correct–usually an employer has a great deal of leeway in firing employees, but they cannot fire them for certain reasons that are prohibited by law. In this case the two would be pregnancy and sex. The school got in trouble because it fired plaintiff for being pregnant and/or because it did not treat men who used AI the same as it did women who used AI. I think if it has said instead “we’re firing you because you are lesbian” it would have been fine–Ohio doesn’t have a law that prohibits that and federal law doesn’t either.

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