CINCINNATI (AP) — A jury deliberated Friday without reaching a verdict in a teacher’s lawsuit alleging the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati violated anti-discrimination laws when she was fired after becoming pregnant through artificial insemination.
The jury hearing Christa Dias’ federal lawsuit against the archdiocese and two of its schools deliberated throughout the afternoon before breaking for the weekend and was set to resume deliberations Monday.
Dias’ attorney, Robert Klingler, said during closing arguments Friday that Dias was fired in 2010 because she was pregnant and unmarried and that her firing while pregnant violated anti-discrimination laws.
Klingler said she was fired “by an archdiocese that thought it was above the law.” He said the jury had the power to tell the archdiocese that there is “not a separate set of laws” that applies to it.
Attorney Steven Goodin, representing the archdiocese and the schools, told jurors the case is about Dias’ employment contract and her conduct, which he said violated that pact.
Goodin said there was no evidence showing Dias “was targeted just because she was a pregnant woman” and no evidence of pregnancy discrimination.
“This case is purely and squarely about Catholic doctrine,” he said.
Artificial insemination is against Catholic doctrine, and Dias violated that doctrine and a morality clause in the contract she signed, Goodin said. The clause required her to comply with the stated philosophies and teachings of the church, Goodin said.
“She was aware from Day 1 that specific Catholic teachings applied to her conduct,” he said.
Klingler accused the archdiocese of using the contract as a “smoke screen” to divert attention from the pregnancy, which he said was “really the issue.” There was no evidence that Dias would have been fired for using artificial insemination if she had not been pregnant, he said.
They would not have fired her if she weren’t pregnant, and “pregnancy was the motivating factor” in her firing,” he said.
While the lawsuit didn’t seek specific damages, Klingler suggested Friday that $200,000 in compensatory damages would not be unreasonable for what Dias went through with the loss of her job and health insurance and the worry she experienced.
He stressed that Dias is not seeking punitive damages from the schools but that “the archdiocese is a different matter.”
Officials there “knew or should have known that they were breaking the law,” Klingler said. He suggested any punitive damages against the archdiocese should be double whatever compensatory damages might be set by the jury, to show that what church leaders did was wrong and shouldn’t happen again. Lost back pay of about $37,000 would bring the total damages he suggested to more than $600,000.
Goodin said there was no basis for punitive damages against the archdiocese, which he said had only a minimal connection to the case and did not fire Dias. He said finding for Dias would send a message “through the whole country” that it’s “not OK” for private religious organizations to enforce doctrine.
Klingler has argued that the archdiocese controls the schools and had responsibility for the firing.