Archdiocese Expected to Appeal Ohio Teacher Case
A jury found an Ohio archdiocese discriminated against a teacher fired after becoming pregnant via artificial insemination, leaving legal experts expecting an appeal they say could have a much wider legal impact.
Christa Dias, who was fired from two schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati in October 2010, was awarded more than $170,000 Monday after winning her federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against the archdiocese.
Dias’ attorney, Robert Klingler, argued she was fired simply because she was pregnant and unmarried, a dismissal he said violated state and federal law.
Steven Goodin, the attorney for the archdiocese and the schools, contended Dias was fired for violating her contract, which he said required her to comply with the philosophies and teachings of the Catholic church. The church considers artificial insemination immoral and a violation of church doctrine.
The case, viewed as a barometer on the degree to which religious organizations can regulate employees’ lives, is the second lawsuit filed in the last two years against the archdiocese over the firing of an unmarried pregnant teacher.
While Goodin said a decision would be made later on whether to appeal the verdict, legal experts believe it will definitely end up in an appeals court.
Jessie Hill, a professor of civil rights and constitutional law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, believes the "ministerial exception" issue could be raised on appeal.
The archdiocese argued before trial that Dias, who was a computer technology teacher, was a "ministerial employee," a position that has not been clearly defined by the courts.
The Supreme Court has said religious groups can dismiss those employees without government interference. But Klingler insisted Dias had no such ministerial duties, and the Cincinnati court found she was not a ministerial employee and that the issue couldn’t be argued at trial.
Hill said the Supreme Court has left "uncertainty about who is and who isn’t a ministerial employee," and she expects the case would be "closely watched at the appellate level."
David Ball, co-chairman of the Religious Organizations Subcommittee of the American Bar Association, doesn’t think Dias fits the definition of a ministerial employee. He believes an appellate court may have to decide whether the case involves "impermissible pregnancy discrimination or permissible religious discrimination, when in fact it’s both."
Ball believes the case could potentially be precedent-setting at the appellate level in dealing with "the conflict of religious employers’ rights versus the rights of women seeking to reproduce."