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.