CINCINNATI (CN) - A jury should decide whether the Archdiocese of Cincinnati discriminated in firing a lesbian who underwent artificial insemination, a federal judge ruled.
While working as a computer technology at two schools run by the archdiocese, Holy Family and St. Lawrence, Christa Dias became pregnant and told her boss.
Thinking that Dias had engaged in premarital sex, a school principal said O'Brien would probably lose her job for being pregnant and unmarried. O'Brien then admitted that she had undergone artificial insemination, but the school said this was also grounds for termination.
The archdiocese has insisted that Dias violated the "morals clause" of her employee contract and that she violated her responsibilities as a "minister" of Catholic doctrine.
O'Brien alleged federal and state pregnancy discrimination and breach of contract in her complaint against the archdiocese and St. Lawrence and Holy Family Schools, filed in the Southern District Court of Ohio.
The court had previously refused to dismiss the complaint under the ministerial exception, which bars ministers from suing the church under civil employment laws because such claims would require courts to meddle in church affairs, a violation of the First Amendment.
It noted this exception did not apply the non-Catholic Dias was not permitted to teach Catholic doctrine and could not genuinely be considered a 'minister' of the Catholic faith.
Dias argued that the morals clause in her contract, which prohibits pregnancy out of wedlock, violated pregnancy discrimination laws, but the court found last week that this clause is protected under the 6th Circuit's 1996 decision, Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis Inc.
In that case, "the court upheld the termination of a teacher at a religious school based on the schools' proffered legitimate justification that it had a policy against its teachers engaging in sex outside marriage," U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spiegel wrote. "The Sixth Circuit found that so long as such a code of conduct was applied equally to both genders, it could be upheld as valid and non-pretextual."
Neither Dias nor the archdiocese won summary judgment on the discrimination claims. Spiegel said testimony is needed to determine whether the church simply enforced its premarital sex policy against Dias, or whether it used the policy as a pretext.
"Even should a jury find defendant initially terminated plaintiff based on its view that she engaged in premarital sex, plaintiff could still prevail should the jury find the policy was not enforced in a gender-neutral manner," the ruling states.
"Plaintiff's discovery has shown that only female employees of the archdiocese have been terminated due to the 'morals clause,' such that a jury might conclude the proffered reason is pretextual," Spiegel added.
Though pregnancy by artificial insemination might fall outside a policy prohibiting extramarital intercourse, the church may be able to defend a policy against artificial insemination "so long as it would be enforced in a gender-neutral manner," the court found.
Spiegel did grant the church summary judgment on the contract claim, noting that Dias has "admitted she was in a long-term homosexual relationship during her employment, and that she kept such fact secret from defendants as she knew defendants would view her relationship as a violation of the morals clause."
"Under such circumstances, the court finds plaintiff, with 'unclean hands,' cannot invoke a cause of action based on a contract she knew she was breaching," he wrote.
A final pre-trial conference is scheduled for Feb. 27, with the four-day trial slated to begin on March 19.