Montana Catholic school fires unmarried pregnant teacher — and says she has no right to sue
Attorneys for a Catholic school in Montana claimed this week that a woman who was fired for being unmarried and pregnant has no right to sue for discrimination, the Associated Press reported.
Former Butte Central teacher Shaela Evenson got pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Her bosses found out in January of 2014, when an anonymous letter arrived for then superintendent of schools for the diocese, Patrick Haggarty, alleging that Evenson “was pregnant and not married.” On January 12, Evenson received an official termination letter from Butte Central, stating that Evenson was out of compliance with her employment contract.
Evenson sued the school and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination and breach of contract in 2014.
Attorneys for the school admitted that Evenson was terminated because of her pregnancy, but said she was not protected by federal law prohibiting discrimination because she was a religious employee. “She is a ministerial employee and as such her employment is exempt from Title VII,” they wrote.
By getting pregnant outside the confines of heterosexual marriage, attorneys for the school claim the Catholic teacher was in violation the Catholic school teacher was in violation of her “employment agreement, which required abiding by the moral and religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and prohibiting personal conduct or lifestyles at variance with, or contrary to, those teachings.”
“Pregnancy outside of wedlock is at variance with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the lawsuit adds, for clarification.
Discussing Evenson’s firing in 2014 with the Montana Standard, Haggarty explains to reporters: “It’s not easy being a Christian or a Catholic in today’s world. Our faith asks us to do things that right now are not popular with society. I’m really OK, I’m not comfortable, but I’m OK with what’s transpired. Being a Christian is this way; we’re asked to do things that are not popular with our society.”
“The Catholic moral teaching is that the sacrament of marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman,” Haggarty continues. “And we certainly believe and we teach our children who attend our schools about the sacrament of marriage. That’s as old as our church. Not only do we teach that to the children kindergarten through 12th grade, but we’re held to that standard as well.”
A spokesperson for the diocese told Montana Standard reporters that “the diocese doesn’t investigate the personal lives of its employees but was forced to fire Evenson when the pregnancy became known.”
Evenson’s lawyers have pointed out that Butte Central Catholic Schools “does not investigate male employees and non-pregnant female employees for compliance with Catholic Church teachings, and its only means to determine compliance is ‘observation of pregnancy in unmarried women.’'”