Trial opens over firing of Ohio pregnant lesbian teacher
By LISA CORNWELL
A Roman Catholic archdiocese and two of its schools violated the civil rights of a teacher who was fired after she became pregnant through artificial insemination, her attorney told jurors Tuesday.
Christa Dias was terminated simply for being pregnant and unmarried, and it’s illegal to fire an employee for being pregnant, her attorney Robert Klingler told federal jurors during opening statements of the trial over Dias’ lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the schools.
Klingler started his statement by showing jurors a photo of Dias’ daughter, who is now 2 years old.
He said Dias had always wanted a child even after realizing she was gay and decided on artificial insemination to become pregnant. She also loved her job teaching computer classes at the schools and believed herself to be “a good teacher and a good moral person,” he said. Dias, who is not Catholic, did not know that artificial insemination would be considered a violation of her contract and Catholic doctrine, he said.
But Steven Goodin, representing the archdiocese and the schools, said there was no discrimination. He says Dias was fired “for intentionally violating a contract.”
Goodin pointed out to jurors a clause in the employment contract saying employees must “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings” of the Catholic church and the schools’ policies and directives.
The archdiocese has said that artificial insemination violates that doctrine and is immoral.
Goodin noted that Dias is gay and therefore “shouldn’t have signed a contract knowing that she was violating” church doctrine.
While the lawsuit does not claim Dias was fired because of her sexual orientation, Goodin said she kept the fact that she was gay a secret, because she knew the church doesn’t approve of homosexual acts.
“That all goes to her credibility,” he said.
Goodin said the lawsuit is “about money, plain and simple.” Even if jurors should find his clients did something wrong, “the evidence will show that Ms. Dias is not entitled to any damages,” he said.
Dias is seeking unspecified damages to cover lost wages and “for the pain and emotional stress,” Klingler said.
The archdiocese also has argued that Dias was a ministerial employee and the Supreme Court has said religious groups can dismiss those employees, but Klingler insists Dias had no such duties.
The case, viewed as a barometer on the degree to which religious organizations can regulate employees’ lives, is the second lawsuit that’s been filed in the last two years against the archdiocese over the firing of an unmarried pregnant teacher.
Kathleen Quinlan, who taught first grade at Ascension Catholic School in Kettering in suburban Dayton, said she was told to resign or she would be fired, on the same day she told the school’s principal in December 2011 that she was expecting.
Dias’ lawsuit alleges that church policy isn’t equally enforced against men and women.