Christa Dias was awarded $171,000 Monday by a federal jury in Cincinnati, Ohio, which found that the 34-year-old gay teacher was wrongly fired by the Catholic archdiocese for becoming pregnant by artificial insemination in 2010.
Dias, who was a technology teacher at Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in East Price Hill, Cincinnati, was fired in October 2010 after she approached her employers concerning maternity leave.
The archdiocese argued that Dias' employment contract was clear that she was required to abide by Catholic teachings. Undergoing artificial insemination was a breach of that contract. But she contended that as a non-ministerial employee, she wasn't bound by those requirements. In the contract it states that employees must act and comply with Catholic teachings, which include not participating in what the church deems as "grave immoral" acts.
The jury's verdict against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati requires the institution to pay Dias, who is not married, $51,000 for back pay, $20,000 for compensatory damages, and $100,000 in punitive damages. "Punitive damages, as the name implies, are intended to punish the party found liable," wrote Deacon Keith Fournier for Catholic online.
Fournier, who's a deacon at St. Stephen Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, Va., told The Christian Post on Tuesday "the notion that only if you're teaching religion or theology should you be required to embrace what the church teaches is contrary to what Christianity is all about.
He continued, "We're supposed to live morally coherent lives. The Catholic Church is clear on this. When people come to work for the church and any of the outreaches, they're well aware of that, even if they're not Catholic."
Dias' attorney, Robert Klinger, argued that the archdiocese was in violation of federal law, which protects pregnant women, whether they're married or not, or work at a religious institution that requires employees to uphold their contractual agreements.
Steve Goodin, an attorney for the archdiocese, had also argued that Dias had kept the fact that she was gay a secret from the schools because she knew the church does not approve of homosexuality. Dias has not claimed she was fired over her sexuality, but Goodin was making the point that she never intended to follow the contract.
"We always viewed this as a contract case, and then a First Amendment case, secondarily, which was that any church or school, no matter what its denomination, ought to have the right to enforce its doctrine within its four walls," Goodin said following the jury's verdict.
Fournier said he's deeply concerned about the implications of this case, and believes it's becoming increasingly important for Christian institutions, churches and outreaches to be aware of this issue.
"I think we're watching a continued encroachment on the church and her right to ensure that the people who work in her institutions abide by the teaching of the church," Fournier said.
The case "shows a growing hostility toward the church, and an agenda to seek to compel the church to lay aside its deeply-held moral and religious teachings. It will not succeed," he said, noting that this is not the first time in the 2,000-year history of the Christian church that states have sought to get the church to violate its convictions.
Fournier believes the outcome of the Dias case will require churches, church institutions and outreaches, to ensure that their employment contracts specifically state that every employee is considered a ministerial employee.
Dan Andriacco, Communications director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told the CP on May 29 that "what's at stake here is really very simple: Parents who pay to send their children to a Catholic school have a right to expect that those children will be educated in an environment that reflects Catholic moral teaching. That's why our standard school contract specifies that employees will abide by the teachings of the Catholic church. That's the contract that Dias signed and she violated the contract."
Andriacco added that the contract clearly states that employees must "comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the policies and directives of the archdiocese," and that it applies equally to men and women.