Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jury Awards Fired Catholic School Teacher $2 Million: Indiana Taxpayers Will Likely Pay

A Catholic school teacher in Fort Wayne sued her former employer, St. Vincent de Paul, for discrimination based on her sex and disability in federal court after she was fired because she underwent in vitro fertilization, which violated her employer's religious doctrine. Yesterday, a jury sided with Emily Herx and awarded her a $2 million judgment for her lost wages and pain and suffering. Her annual salary as a teacher had been about $28,000.

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is likely to appeal the jury's decision if the federal district court doesn't dismiss the judgment on the basis that it is exempt from Title VII's reach as a religious organization. The district court previously granted summary judgment against Herx's ADA claim. Under Title VII, prevailing plaintiffs are also allowed to recover attorney's fees.

If the judgment stands, it is Indiana taxpayers who will likely wind up footing at least part of the bill. That's because St. Vincent de Paul is one of many Catholic schools across Indiana which are financed with taxpayer dollars under the state's Choice Scholarship program. The state-sponsored program allows qualifying parents to pick a school of their choice, including private church schools like St. Vincent de Paul, to educate their children. The state, in turn, provides vouchers to the parents to pay their child's tuition, which in reality is a direct transfer payment to the participating schools.

The ACLU of Indiana previously challenged the constitutionality of the Choice program, but the Indiana Supreme Court sided with the state because the vouchers are theoretically paid to the parents, not the religious schools and, therefore, didn't violate the constitution's prohibition against public monies being spent for religious purposes. To win on appeal, the church will claim it is exempt from Title VII because it's a religious organization. The district court denied the school's summary judgment motion based on the ministerial exemption after concluding Herx played no role in religious education as a teacher. Witnesses for the school testified Herx had signed a contract with a morals clause under which she promised to uphold the church's religious teachings.


Anonymous said...

Notice who plaintiffs council is?

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt that the Deft's attorneys will spend another $500K
{or more) on appellate attorney fees, meanwhile judgment interest
will be accruing based on the federal formula. I'd bet that
Judge Miller doesn't get reversed
very often.

Anonymous said...

Gary, what is her disability? Or is that protected?

Gary R. Welsh said...

I assume her disability claim was based on her inability to get pregnant without artificial assistance.

Mark said...

They need to end the vouchers. This case made it clear what the religious schools are not going to follow laws regarding public funding.

Anonymous said...

She went to work for a religious organization and signed a contract with a morals clause under which she promised to uphold the church's religious teachings. She broke the contract and demands they retain her???

-Outrageous! If she didn't want to adhere to the contract, she should not have accepted employment with them. This matter should be thrown out of any courtroom on its face.

Gary R. Welsh said...

It's a given the 7th Circuit is going to have a crack at it, and it might see the case differently. I've said this before, and it bears repeating. When I worked for the Illinois legislature many years ago, one of the most conservative legislators was very much opposed to voucher programs for private schools. She maintained, I believe convincingly, that a private religious school lost its religious exemption under Title VII once it started accepting public money to pay for students' tuition. If religious instruction is not part of a teacher's duty, then what's the point of having that clause in her contract? I've rarely met a Catholic who adheres to all of the church's dogma. The DeLaneys are Catholics. They brought this lawsuit, and they're pro abortion and pro same-sex marriage like a lot of Democrats who are Catholic. Does the church deny them communion? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

If the DeLaney's are not in communion with The Church, they may not have communion.

It is a sin.