An Ohio Archdiocese has been ordered to pay US $171,000 in damages to a teacher who was fired after becoming pregnant by artificial insemination.
Christa Dias was dismissed in October 2010 from two schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Steven Goodin, the lawyer for the archdiocese, argued that Dias was dismissed on the grounds that she had breached the terms of her contract, which required her to abide by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the archdiocese, artificial insemination and other assisted reproductive technologies are a violation of church doctrine.
Dias' lawyer, Robert Klingler, said that she was fired because she was pregnant and unmarried, however, which constitutes a violation of US anti-discrimination laws.
A federal jury in the US District Circuit in Cincinatti returned its verdict in favour of Dias and ordered the archdiocese to pay US $51,000 for lost wages, $20,000 for emotional distress and $100,000 in punitive damages.
Klingler noted that Dias, who is gay, always intended to have a child using artificial insemination. Neither the archdiocese nor Dias claimed that she was dismissed over her sexual orientation, but Goodin argued that 'Dias never really intended to abide by the contract'.
Dias told The Associated Press in a phone interview that she was 'very happy and relieved' with the verdict, which she said she pursued for the sake of other women who might find themselves in a similar situation.
Dan Andriacco, a spokesperson for the archdiocese said, 'We're disappointed, but it's a very complex verdict, and we're going to have to study it before we decide whether to appeal'.
Legal experts anticipate the archdiocese will appeal against the verdict in a case which could have widespread legal impact. Jessie Hill, a professor of civil rights and constitutional law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, predicts that the 'ministerial exception' issue could be raised at appeal.
The US Supreme Court has previously ruled that religious organisations can dismiss ministerial employees without government interference. However, Klingler argued that Dias, who was a computer technology teacher, had no ministerial duties.