Baby Worth The Legal Fight
December 29, 2011 by staff
Baby Worth The Legal Fight, Sitting on her mom’s lap, the 10-month-old toothless girl with twinkling blue eyes and chubby cheeks sports a wide smile as she gums a jingle bell Christmas tree ornament. The infant is Christa Dias’ greatest gift – and the reason she was fired from teaching jobs at two Cincinnati Catholic schools.
“I’ve always wanted to have a baby,” said Dias as she held her wish-come-true in her arms in their Withamsville home. “I’ve always known that. That’s why I became a teacher, because I love kids. “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
But it was for her employers, Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in East Price Hill, who fired Dias in October 2010 because the single woman was 5½ months pregnant and wanted to discuss maternity leave. She is still unemployed.
She sued in April, accusing the schools of pregnancy discrimination and breach of contract.
Her case, filed in the Cincinnati-based U.S. District Court, is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decides issues in another, similar case.
Dias was fired for being pregnant not from premarital sex, but as a result of artificial insemination.
For Dias, the case is about what she believes is a rigid religious institution that refuses to adapt to modern life punishing her for celebrating life with birth.
For the schools that hired and fired Dias, the issue is less about her beliefs and more about Dias keeping her legal promise.
“She has a right to her opinion, but she doesn’t have a right to violate her (employment) contract,” said Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman Dan Andriacco.
That contract calls for her to act and comply with Catholic teachings, including not participating in what the church calls the “grave immoral” act of artificial insemination.
Dias, 32, a Michigan native, isn’t Catholic but is Christian and attended Notre Dame College, a Catholic school in South Euclid, Ohio, on a volleyball scholarship.
She came to this area in 2007 and began teaching at Holy Family in August 2008 and at St. Lawrence in August 2009. She was the technology coordinator at both schools, with a combined annual salary of $36,000.
Initially, the schools fired Dias for being single and pregnant. But when they were informed that could violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws, they changed the reason for the firing to being pregnant as a result of artificial insemination, which they said violated Catholic teachings – and her employment contract with them.
The schools “have admitted that they had no other reason to terminate Ms. Dias’ employment,” her attorneys wrote in legal filings in the case.
“I’m disappointed more than anything that I couldn’t continue my career because I wanted a child,” said Dias, who declined to let her daughter’s name be used or face be photographed.
The school’s attorneys countered that Dias’ choices are why she was fired.
“Above all, this is a case about a contract,” the school’s lawyers wrote.
Both sides raise compelling legal arguments:
The schools say she is bound by her contract to act as a Catholic. “This is not the classic pregnancy discrimination case in which pretexts must be evaluated and discriminatory intent must be divined,” the school’s attorneys wrote.
Dias counters that contract is invalid because it isn’t applied equally to men or enforced on them. Her physical state made it obvious she was pregnant, but that’s not so for men who participate in artificial insemination, she said. “It’s a double standard. I’m suing so they can’t do this to any more women.’’
The schools’ lawyers say any argument other than violation of her contract “will unavoidably put (Catholic) doctrine itself on trial,” which is barred by the U.S. Constitution that gives Americans the right to exercise their religion of choice.
Dias notes current law allows her to sue because the majority of her work as technology teacher at the two schools has nothing to do with religion.
The legal issues, Dias insists, are a way for the schools and the church to avoid what she believes is her right.
Dias was fired by the Rev. James Kiffmeyer, who was suspended in 2002 after being accused of sexual misconduct with two male students at Fenwick High School, where Kiffmeyer was a teacher.
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