Teacher sues church over pregnancy firing

Published: Thursday, January 03, 2013 @ 1:53 PM
Updated: Thursday, January 03, 2013 @ 1:53 PM

A former first-grade teacher at Kettering’s Ascension Catholic School is suing the school, Ascension Church and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati in federal court, saying officials discriminated against her a year ago when they fired the unmarried woman after she told the principal about her pregnancy.

Kathleen Quinlan of Kettering, who has since delivered twin girls, said in the Dec. 14 lawsuit that her firing for moral reasons was discriminatory because male employees who engage in premarital sex don’t face the same consequences “insomuch as they do not show outward signs of engaging in sexual intercourse (i.e., pregnancy).”

Quinlan was hired on July 25, 2011, and started work on Aug. 11, 2011. She became pregnant that fall, according to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

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On Dec. 29, 2011, as her pregnancy was becoming apparent, she met with Principal Brett Devitt, told him about her pregnancy and offered to “take a ‘behind the scenes’ role at Ascension until she gave birth,” the lawsuit said. Devitt told her that “Ascension would do everything possible to support her,” the suit said, but that he needed to confer with Ascension Pastor Chris Worland and officials of the 19-county archdiocese, which runs the Catholic school system.

In a second meeting later that day, Worland and Devitt “told Ms. Quinlan that, after relating her pregnancy to the archdiocese, it was decided she could no longer work for Ascension School,” according to the lawsuit. She was told to clean out her classroom within three days, so her replacement could begin on Jan. 3. Her firing was effective Dec. 31, 2011, and she consequently lost her medical insurance in January.

A Dec. 31 termination letter told Quinlan she was fired for violating a section of her employment contract that requires employees to “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” the lawsuit said. Quinlan’s attorney argued that, “as a non-ministerial employee, (she) was not subject to a ‘morality clause.’”

Worland referred a request for comment to the archdiocese whose spokesman, Dan Andriacco, said he couldn’t comment because legal counsel was unavailable for consultation this week. Quinlan and Devitt did not respond to requests for comment.

Quinlan is seeking back pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress and punitive damages “to punish and deter Ascension School and Archdiocese of Cincinnati from engaging in discriminatory activity,” plus attorney fees.

“Pregnancy discrimination is illegal,” said James Hardiman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “The issue is clouded somewhat because this is a religious institution.”

The ACLU was involved in a 1986 case against Dayton Christian Schools that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case set precedent allowing government investigation of discrimination cases by religious institutions.

Quinlan isn’t the only Catholic school teacher to sue a diocese in recent times over a reproductive issue.

The Cincinnati archdiocese is facing a pending federal lawsuit similar to Quinlan’s, filed by former parochial teacher Christa Dias of Clermont County. The 2011 lawsuit claims the single woman was fired after she became pregnant through artificial insemination.

Dias was fired by the Rev. James Kiffmeyer, who was suspended from 2002-2006 on allegations of sexual misconduct against two male students in separate incidents while he was a teacher at Middletown’s Fenwick High School. The complainants were 18 when the incidents occurred, and Kiffmeyer was reinstated. The archdiocese reached a financial settlement with one of the accusers.

In Indiana, Emily Herx made national headlines in April when she sued the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend in federal court, saying the diocese discriminated against the married teacher when officials fired her for having in vitro fertilization treatments. Diocesan officials say the procedure is “gravely immoral.” She said other employees violate Catholic teachings without consequence. The lawsuit is pending.