In April, 2011, an Indiana woman’s teaching contract was not renewed by the Catholic school where she had taught for eight years. The reason allegedly given to her was that she had undergone in vitro fertility treatments, which is against the doctrine of the Catholic Church, and that as a teacher at the school she was required to abide by that doctrine. She filed a lawsuit against the diocese claiming gender and disability discrimination.
This case is similar to one filed in Missouri. In that case, a woman claimed she was discriminated against because of her disability when she was wrongfully terminated by a Lutheran school. The school said the lawsuit should be dismissed because of ministerial exception, which is meant to keep the separation of church and state by allowing religious institutions to make employment decisions without regard to federal discrimination laws. In some situations, this separation makes sense. For instance, a Catholic church shouldn’t be required to consider a Jewish rabbi as a potential leader so that they are not guilty of religious discrimination. But who this exception pertains to outside of direct ministry is still unclear, despite a Supreme Court’s ruling in January 2013. The ruling agreed with the lower court’s decision in the Missouri case that allowed the Lutheran church to terminate the teacher, but it basically said every case of this kind should be considered individually.
Based on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Missouri case, the Catholic diocese in Indiana filed a motion to dismiss the case against them, stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act did not apply in this situation because the school is a religious institution, and therefore is exempt. The district court judge hearing the case denied their motion, allowing the case to go forward.
The Indiana teacher is suing for both gender and disability discrimination. The gender discrimination claim is fairly clear because the school allegedly terminated her because of her in vitro treatments, something that only pertains to women. The disability claim may seem far-fetched unless one is familiar with discrimination laws. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), infertility is considered a disability, so someone dealing with infertility issues is protected from discriminatory acts by the ADA. As a result, this case will not likely be decided on whether or not she was disabled. The question will be if her position as a teacher was ministerial enough to remove her discrimination protection.
As Kentucky and Indiana employment lawyers, Charles Miller and Rheanne Falkner will continue to follow this case so that they will be able to help any clients who find themselves in a similar situation. If you think you have been discriminated against at work for any reason, contact an Indiana or Kentucky workplace discrimination lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your situation.
Herx Lawsuit: A Matter of Church v. State; indiananewscenter.com; Rachel Martin, et al.; April 26, 2012
Judge: Indiana teacher can sue diocese over in vitro fertilization case; Associated Press; Charles Wilson; March 12, 2013