A Kettering Catholic school teacher fired in December 2011 because of her unwed pregnancy was not discriminated against but was terminated because she violated a contract saying that she would comply with church teachings, according to a response to the former teacher’s lawsuit filed in federal court Monday.
The filing by attorneys for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati denies any discrimination and says former teacher Kathleen Quinlan’s court claims are barred by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion protections.
“The Archdiocese of Cincinnati for many years has had what is commonly called a morality clause in its contract,” church spokesman Dan Andriacco told the Dayton Daily News on Monday. “We expect our employees who sign those contracts to live up to that clause and when they do not we enforce it.”
Quinlan’s attorney, Micah Siegal, said “that contract cannot be enforced against her in a way that violated federal law.”
Quinlan lost her job and health coverage from Ascension Catholic Church on Woodman Drive on Dec. 29, 2011, hours after telling school officials she had become pregnant in the fall with twin girls. Her court filing says she notified school officials because her pregnancy was becoming outwardly apparent and wanted to keep her job and benefits and take maternity leave.
Quinlan sued in federal court in December 2012 saying her firing was discriminatory, in part because male employees are not fired for engaging in premarital sex because they don’t get pregnant so nobody knows about it. The suit seeks back pay and punitive damages.
Quinlan’s filing says the first-grade teacher “was not ordained as a minister by the Catholic Church. She neither led her students in prayer nor otherwise served as a religious leader or agent on behalf of the (church).”
The church’s filing denies this claim and says she falls under the law’s “ministerial exception.”
This is an important distinction, because the U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed in recent years that religious groups are not beholden to workplace discrimination laws in hiring and firing church leaders, or “ministerial employees.”