Thursday, June 6, 2013

Former teacher awarded $171K

Jury rules against archdiocese over firing

Jun. 3, 2013 
Christa Dias

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati must pay Christa Dias $171,000 because it improperly fired the unmarried teacher after she became pregnant by artificial insemination, a federal jury decided Monday.

“I was relieved. It’s been a very, very long road,” Dias said after the verdict before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott. “Now, I can go on with my life.”

Dias, 34, was a computer teacher at two of the archdiocese’s East Price Hill schools – Holy Family and St. Lawrence – in 2010 when she told officials she needed maternity leave. That surprised officials because Dias is single and having a child outside of marriage violates Catholic teaching.

When she told them how she became pregnant, also a violation of Catholic teachings, she was fired.

The archdiocese argued that her employment contract spelled out that she must live within Catholic teachings. She countered, though, that she wasn’t a “ministerial employee” whose responsibility included teaching religion or Catholicism. A jury agreed with her Monday, after deliberating about eight hours over two days, and found the archdiocese liable.

The five-woman, three-man jury also awarded her punitive damages of $100,000 and compensatory damages of $71,000. Dias’ attorneys had asked the jury to award her $637,000.

As Dias’ attorneys requested in their Friday closings, the jury didn’t find the two schools liable even though she also sued them. Dias’ attorney, Robert Klingler, told jurors Dias didn’t want the schools to suffer as a result of what the archdiocese forced them to do.

“What they did was against the law,” Dias said of the archdiocese. “Employers still have to follow the law no matter what.”

Dias, paid $36,000 annually by the schools, argued she wasn’t a ministerial employee and therefore exempt from restrictions on living according to Catholic teachings.

The archdiocese changed its employment contracts in August, spokesman Dan Andriacco said, specifying who is a ministerial employee.

Churches and schools across the country have been calling the archdiocese’s attorneys to ask about the ministerial employee exemption and how they should change their contracts so they won’t be sued, archdiocese attorney Steve Goodin said.

“It will lock in the teachers with such incredible specificity,“ Goodin said.

He doesn’t believe Dias’ win will have far-reaching impact because her case had “a very, very, very unique fact pattern” due to the ministerial employee issue.

Dias’ lawyer disagreed.
“For non-ministerial employees,” Klingler said after the verdict, “it means that juries are willing to
apply the law even to church organizations. The archdiocese should have known it shouldn’t have done what it did.”

The archdiocese, Goodin said, was unsure if it would appeal.

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