Archdiocese settles lawsuits brought by unmarried pregnant teachers

The Cincinnati Archdiocese has reached two out-of-court settlements stemming from federal civil lawsuits brought by teachers who became pregnant while employed by Catholic schools. The cases pitted religious liberty against individual freedom from discrimination.

Kathleen Quinlan, a former first-grade teacher who was fired from Kettering’s Ascension School in 2011 for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, settled her case in November for an undisclosed amount.

In June, a jury awarded former Cincinnati resident Christa Dias $171,000 in damages. Dias, who was fired from Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in 2010, taught computer classes and who became pregnant by artificial insemination, which also is against Catholic doctrine. The archdiocese appealed the decision, but the parties settled for an undisclosed amount in September before the appeal was heard in court.

Neither the Archdiocese nor the women’s attorney would comment about the dollar figures or the settlements due to confidentiality clauses in the agreements.

“I also know that with both cases, Quinlan and Dias, there was a lot of controversy within the church itself as to whether a hard line should be taken and the cases should be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court or whether they ought to try to resolve these things,” said Robert Klingler, both women’s attorney. “That was a division that had to be worked out before the cases could be resolved.”

Cincinnati Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said Archbishop Dennis Schnurr could not comment on the settlements.

Andriacco did comment on the change in Catholic school contracts this fall that reinforces the “ministerial exception” which allows the church to require employees to live in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as outlined in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” that is displayed on the Vatican’s website.

“It really lays out explicitly what we’ve always felt was implicit, that our school employees are ministerial employees,” Adriacco said. “We regard them as that. This is their acknowledgement of that by signing their contract that they understand that they are that.”

Quinlan, who worked for Ascension from July 2011 until she was fired in December 2011, later gave birth to twin girls.

Dias, who has said she is gay, gave birth to a girl and later moved to Atlanta. Dias was fired by Rev. James Kiffmeyer, who was suspended from 2002-2006 on allegations of sexual misconduct against two male students in separate incidents while he taught at Fenwick High School.

Both cases have some similarities to a current case in federal court in Fort Wayne, Ind.

In that lawsuit, former language arts teacher Emily Herx, who is married, was fired for having in vitro fertilization. In Herx’s lawsuit, she contends Bishop Kevin Rhodes told her that “in vitro fertilization … is an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it.”

Herx is claiming she was discriminated against because infertility is a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission found in Herx’s favor in a January 2012 ruling. Herx, who never taught a religious class at St. Vincent de Paul School, said she was never required to take any religion classes.

“The key issue in these cases really is the ministerial exception,” Klinger said. “It exempts churches from Title VII as to their ministerial employees.”

Herx’s case is ongoing, with a judge recently ruling that the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend must give access to five years’ of records from 41 schools to see how the morality clause had been applied to other diocesan employees.

Andriacco said the Cincinnati Archdiocese’s opinion has been consistent. The judge in Dias’ case ruled as a matter of fact that Dias did not fall under the ministerial exception. Quinlan teachings did include some religious instruction, but the settlement precluded any judicial decision on the exception.

“Our Catholic schools have always been a ministry of the church,” he said. “Not all of our students are Catholic, not all of our teachers are Catholic, but all of our schools are Catholic. We believe that all of our employees are ministerial employees, because they are advancing the mission of the school, regardless if they are teachers.”