Schoolteacher goes to trial over in vitro firing

A lawsuit filed by teacher Emily Herx against the Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., diocese after she was fired for undergoing in vitro fertilization will be brought before a jury Dec. 16. The diocese filed an appeal Oct. 27, against a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Miller allowing Herx’s lawsuit to enter the courtroom.

The Dec. 1 decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows Herx to have a trial to determine if Herx was sexually discriminated against by the diocese.

Herx worked as a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Ind., from August 2003, until she learned that her teaching contract would not be renewed for the 2011- 2012 school year. Prior to the firing, Herx told Msgr. John Kuzmich, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic church, that she had attempted, and would again undergo in vitro fertilization.

Herx filed suit against the diocese in 2012 alleging two different claims. First, that her civil rights, under Title VII of the civil rights act as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination act, had been violated. Secondly, Herx claimed that the diocese did not observe the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The diocese moved to have both accusations settled without a full trial. Though the district court granted the diocese’s wish in regards to ADA, the Title VII was ruled to go to trial. When the diocese appealed the Title VII claim, it cited two religious freedom exemptions to get out of the trial. 

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According to the appeals court document, the diocese exception raised the question, “Are the religious employer exemptions in the Title VII applicable only to claims of religious discrimination, or do they apply more broadly to other employment-discrimination claims?”

The court documents said the diocese, “argued … that if the statutory exemptions do not apply, then Title VII is unconstitutional as applied because the jury would be asked to engage in an impermissible inquiry into the religious teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The judge rejected this argument, saying that he would instruct the jury only to consider “whether Herx had proven that the Diocese took an adverse employment action against her because of her sex.”

[Nicholas Sciarappa is an NCR Bertelsen intern. His email address is nsciarappa@ncronline.org.]


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