Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) August 5, 2013 — Pregnancy discrimination is still alive and well in the 21st century.
“This is an unusual case,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. “It has three elements involved, pregnancy discrimination, wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination in view of the plaintiff being a lesbian.”
In this case, a jury ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to $170,000; $100,000 in punitive damages and $71,000 in back pay and compensatory damages. She had been terminated from two schools by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati for being impregnated via artificial insemination. She filed a discrimination lawsuit and alleged that she was fired because she was not married and was pregnant; an allegation that would clearly violate state and federal laws relating to discrimination in the workplace.
The Archdiocese stated at trial that the teacher was let go because she was in violation of her teaching contract, in particular the section relating to any employee must comply with the teachings of the Catholic church. They further alleged she never intended to follow her contract, because she told no one that she was gay. The church regards artificial insemination and homosexual relations as being immoral. In response to this stated position, the plaintiff’s attorney indicated the woman understood the disputed contract clause to mean she must follow the Bible and be a Christian.
“While neither party stated at trial that the woman was fired because she was a lesbian, the implication was clearly present at trial when the defendant’s attorney stated homosexuality is regarded as immoral by the Catholic church,” Coffey indicated.
The Archdiocese has indicated that it will appeal the decision based on their argument that the teacher was classified as a ministerial employee; a definition not yet clearly defined by the judicial system. “This argument is based on a similar type of case, Hosana-Tabor v. EEOC, in which the U.S. Supreme Court stated religious groups may terminate ministerial employees without any interference from the government. In this Cincinnati case, the court said the plaintiff was ‘not’ a ministerial employee,” explained Coffey.
Should the Cincinnati case go on appeal, the court would be facing a conundrum decision, whether the case revolved around permissible religious discrimination (per Hosana-Tabor v. EEOC), or illegal pregnancy discrimination. The facts of the case indicate there are several forms of discrimination in play, but the guidelines are blurred, since there is no set definition for a ministerial employee. “The take away in this case is that an appeal may well have an impact on how much religious groups may regulate their worker’s behavior,” said Coffey.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com
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Chicago, IL 60654
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