Category Personnel/Employment
Title Teacher Fired After Becoming Pregnant Through Artificial Insemination
Preview Teacher Fired After Becoming Pregnant Through Artificial Insemination

Teacher Fired After Becoming Pregnant Through Artificial Insemination
Thomas J. Cathey, EdD

Christa Dias was a computer technology coordinator in two Catholic schools in Cincinnati. Ms. Dias became pregnant through artificial insemination. She informed her employer that she needed maternity leave. The archdiocese fired her for violating her contract. Her contract required her to comply with the philosophies and teachings of the Catholic Church. The church considered artificial insemination immoral and a violation of the church's doctrines.

Ms. Dias filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the archdioceses and the two schools dismissed her because she was pregnant and that her dismissal violated the federal law prohibiting discrimination against pregnant women.

The archdioceses argued before the trial that Dias was a ministerial employee and that the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor unanimously said that religious employers should be able to dismiss employees without government intervention.

Dias' attorneys argued that Ms. Dias had no such duties as an employee of the schools, and the court agreed that she was not a ministerial employee. In the trial, Ms. Dias, who was not Catholic, testified that she did not know that artificial insemination was a violation of Church doctrines or a part of her contract. She said she thought the clause in her contract regarding following the Catholic philosophies and teachings meant she needed to be a Christian and follow the Bible.

The attorneys for the Catholic Church contended that Ms. Dias, who is gay, never intended to obey her contract. She had kept her sexual orientation a secret since she knew that homosexual acts would have violated her contract. However, neither the archdiocese nor Ms. Dias claimed she was fired because she was gay. The judge ordered the jurors not to make sexual orientation a consideration in the decision of the jury.

The jury found the Catholic Church discriminated against Christa Dias by firing her from her school. The jury said that the archdiocese must pay a total of $71,000 for back pay and compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the violator of the law.

Christa Dias v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati (1:11-cv-00251-SJD)

The Bottom Line

Sadly, this case went before a jury that will always be sympathetic to an employee. However, this case does set a bad precedent for ministerial exception, which comes on the heels of the very positive ruling on this at the U. S. Supreme Court. Hopefully the Catholic Church will appeal and gain a positive outcome.

However, as Christian schools, we need to look at this case and learn some important lessons in hiring and dismissing our employees.

Here are some thoughts and insights from attorney John L. Cooley after reviewing the court opinion.

She was unmarried and told the principal that she was pregnant. After a few days, the principal told her that she was being terminated because she was pregnant and unmarried. In response, Dias advised the principal that she was not pregnant due to premarital sex but from artificial insemination. She was then told that she was being terminated for being pregnant through artificial insemination.

When the Catholic archdiocese filed for a motion to dismiss based on ministerial exception, the court found that Dias was non-Catholic and was not permitted by the schools and Church to teach Catholic doctrine. The court concluded that she could not be a Catholic minister if she was not permitted to teach Catholic doctrine.

The archdiocese also argued that Dias breached the moral clause of the contract. However, the court concluded that there was no "meeting of the minds" because the clause did not say anything about artificial insemination. The contract provided Dias would "comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church." It did not explicitly state what teaching, and so on.

As a result, the court denied the motion to dismiss. The case then proceeded with discovery and ultimately, the archdiocese filed a motion for summary judgment. The archdiocese asserted again the ministerial exception, basing it this time on the argument that Dias was to be a role model, and therefore, a minister. Again the court noted that she was non-Catholic and not permitted to teach Catholic doctrine. Therefore, she was not a minister. In addition, as for the moral clause, Dias had some evidence that the archdiocese did not apply its moral clause policy equally. Since there was a dispute on this fact, the court refused to grant the archdiocese summary judgment on the application of the moral clause, concluding that a jury would have to decide.

Since the archdiocese was claiming a violation of the moral clause as a basis for the termination, a jury would have to decide whether this was a pretext under the Title VII burden shifting scheme. Finally, as for her claim that the archdiocese breached its contract with her, the court concluded that Dias knew that engaging in a homosexual relationship violated the contract moral clause, and therefore, Dias had no claim for a breach of the contract. Nevertheless, the court found the contract issue did not affect Dias' Title VII rights. Therefore, the Title VII claim could be tried to a jury.

In considering the facts in the opinion and the issues, there are several lessons for Christian schools:

  1. Schools must make sure that contract language is clear and that moral requirements are stated concisely, covering the specific moral, biblical requirements.
  2. The ministerial exception for a teacher in a Christian school, as recognized in the Hosanna-Tabor case, is not automatic. To possibly apply, a teacher should be propagating the faith, involved in teaching the school's doctrine (statement of faith), teaching Bible, required to integrate biblical truth into the curriculum, praying with students, participating and even leading in chapels, and otherwise "spreading the message." Here, that was not occurring at all, and in fact, Dias was prohibited from teaching Catholic doctrine.
  3. Schools must apply moral requirements consistently-to male and female employees equally.  

In our environment today, it is understandable how a jury, with secular biases, could find against the archdiocese. The schools here, and the archdiocese, could have taken more proactive steps to articulate and document their requirements.  

As Christian schools, we must first of all clearly hire Christians, those who are believers in Christ. They must be sure to understand the policies as related to the Word of God. Christian teachers are to be Christian role models to their students. The "Christian role model" statement should be used in job descriptions, contracts, and handbooks. It must also be defined using Scriptures. Teachers should sign a lifestyle agreement and a declaration of moral integrity annually with their contracts. Schools should use the ACSI document The Ministry of Teaching in their handbooks.

Lastly, when a teacher is dismissed for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, the pregnancy should not be the reason for dismissal. Instead, the school must focus on the immorality and Christian role model violations.

Christian schools today must be diligent in this area. We will be tested when it comes to the homosexual agenda.

LLU 24.1

Notice: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It has been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.  

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