A jury found that an Ohio archdiocese discriminated against a teacher who was fired after becoming pregnant via artificial insemination, leaving legal experts expecting an appeal that 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 that she was fired simply because she was pregnant and unmarried, a dismissal that he said violated state and federal law.Steven Goodin, the attorney for the archdiocese and the schools, contended that 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 past two years against the archdiocese over the firing of an unmarried pregnant teacher. While Goodin said that 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."
Dias told The Associated Press in a phone interview after the verdict that she was "very happy and relieved" with the outcome of the lawsuit that she said she pursued for the sake of other women who might find themselves in a similar situation. She said she also pursued it for "my daughter's sake, so she knows it's important to stand up for what's right."
The jury said the archdiocese should pay a total of $71,000 for back pay and compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. Dias had also sued the two schools, but the jury didn't find them liable for damages. Klingler had suggested damages as high as $637,000, but Dias said she was satisfied with the jury's award.
"It was never about the money," she said. "They should have followed the law and they didn't." Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said that for the archdiocese, it was "a matter of principle" and about "an employee who broke a contract she signed." Dias, who is not Catholic, had testified she didn't know artificial insemination violated church doctrine or her employment pact. She said she thought the contract clause about abiding by church teachings meant she should be a Christian and follow the Bible.
Klingler said the case shows jurors are willing to apply the law "even to churches and religious organizations when non-ministerial employees are discriminated against." But Goodin said he thinks the verdict could result in churches and religious organizations making their contracts "lock in" employees so specifically that it could be "hard to bring these types of lawsuits in the future."
Goodin had argued that Dias, who is gay, never intended to abide by her contract. She kept her sexual orientation a secret because she knew that homosexual acts also would violate that contract, he said. Neither Dias nor the archdiocese claims that she was fired because she is gay, and the judge told jurors that they could not consider sexual orientation in determining motivating factors for the firing.
Dias, formerly from a Cincinnati suburb, now lives in Atlanta with her partner and 2-year-old daughter, who she said "means everything to me." Dias vowed to continue her fight "for what's right," even if the case is appealed.
5 Hardest Industries To Come Out In
Catholic Teacher Fired After Getting Pregnant Awarded $171,000
In July 2012, U.S. Olympic soccer star Megan Rapinoe came out publicly as gay (she was already out to her family and teammates). In doing so, she joined a crowded club. There are plenty of openly lesbian sportswomen, but distinctly fewer openly gay male athletes, especially in the biggest money-making sports: football, basketball and baseball.
"The climate is much different for men," Rapinoe told USA Today. "That stigma is only going to be broken when people come out and see that there is a positive response."
Wade Davis chipped away at the stigma in June 2012, when he became the fourth former NFL player to come out of the closet. No NFL player has ever admitted to being gay while still playing the game. "The NFL has a reputation," retired lineman Roy Simmons told The New York Times in 2002, "and it's not even a verbal thing -- it's just kind of known. You are gladiators; you are male; you kick butt."
"You can be a wife-beater, do drugs, get in a car wreck, and the team will take care of you," said Butch Woolfolk, a former running back who played with Simmons. "But if you're gay, it's like the military: Don't ask, don't tell."
In April 2012, the Boy Scouts of America told Jennifer Tyrrell that she would no longer be needed as a troop leader, or a member at all. She would no longer take her scouts to a soup kitchen or help them collect canned food. She would no longer teach them the values of compassion, citizenship and respect. She didn't meet the Boy Scouts' "high standards," they said. She was raising her four children with another woman.
The Boy Scouts of America's policy against openly gay leaders and youths has attracted a lot of attention recently. Tyrrell's Change.org petition garnered over 300,000 signatures. Both President Obama and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have urged the 3.7 million-strong organization to change its ways. Even actor Chuck Norris chimed in, chastising the president for his "pro-gay Boy Scouts of America" agenda.
Although the Boy Scouts recently proposed allowing gay youths to join as members, it doesn't plan on changing a ban on gay adults.
Industries that are hit frequently by sex discrimination lawsuits often aren't the best places for gay men and women either. Macho cultures tend to work that way. And there are few cultures as manly as Wall Street.
In the mid-1990s, trader Walter Shubert tried to hide his sexual identity. "I was going through the motions and as unhappy as you could possibly be," he told High Brow magazine. "My spirit had died." When he finally came out to his sister as gay, she put him in touch with a therapist. "I'm the only gay man on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange," Shubert told him.
Of course, that wasn't true. Joe Daniel, a vice president at Dresdner Bank, actually sued his employer for $75 million in 1998 after he came out -- and was fired in a "company-wide downsize" in which he reputedly was the only victim. The outcome of the suit is confidential, but its ripples spread, slowly making the financial world more aware and welcoming of the gay men and women in its midst. But it still hasn't totally reformed from what it was in the '90s, when "there was no way to build a career on the trading floor as an openly gay man," as Shubert put it. "It was a locker-room environment. [Gay] jokes were rampant."
Appeal is the greatest asset of a leading man or lady, and the bigger it is, the higher the box office. That's why the movie-making machinery is still a little nervous about casting an openly gay person in a major role. Big chunks of America might boycott the film, and teen girls might be less likely to buy posters of the hunky star if they know that he doesn't have a thing for girls at all.
"There are no openly gay stars in Hollywood, so someone is telling them to shut up," Ian McKellen told Popeater. "In Hollywood," film industry "spin doc" Howard Bragman told the LA Weekly, "most publicists keep their clients in the closet. And I'm the guy people tend to come to when they want to come out of the closet."
Bragman helped "Bewitched" star Dick Sargent come out, as well as "Party of Five" actor Mitchell Anderson. But there are still no A-listers on the level of a Will Smith or Brad Pitt willing to take the plunge. Although rumors, of course, are rampant. And lore has it that such cinema icons as Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, had surreptitious same-sex liaisons.
In the 1960s, police would regularly raid gay bars, arrest the patrons, and out them publicly in local newspapers. Given this history, it's little surprise that many police forces across the country remain hostile to sexual minorities.
In March 2010, three officers sued a North Carolina police department, claiming that it had a pervasively homophobic work environment presided over by a chief who retaliated against those who spoke out. "There's just a culture of permissiveness," said plaintiff Darin DeFreece. "If somebody has an anti-gay ideology, they can and will say things that are really offensive, and they are never called on it."
In June 2011, Andrew Johnson, who worked at a women's correctional institute in Chino, Calif., was denied a request to march in the annual L.A. Pride Parade in West Hollywood. He was told that it would bring "discredit" to the department, he claimed. But once noted lawyer Gloria Allred took up his cause, the department quickly relented.
And as recently as March 2012, an officer with the St. Cloud, Minn., police department received a $73,000 settlement after he claimed that he was discriminated against when he asked to work a booth at a local gay pride festival.
Despite these lawsuits, many police forces are profoundly tolerant, with their own lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations. And while some may discourage members from participating in pride parades, some march en masse.