Saturday, August 24, 2013

Catholic School Ordered to Pay $171,000 to Teacher

A federal court recently ordered a Catholic school in Ohio to pay $171,000 to a former employee. The employee had violated the terms of her contract by becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The employee admitted to signing a statement that required her to "act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." So there is no doubt that she violated the terms of her employment contract and then sued for back pay and damages, and won. The former teacher did not argue that the terms of her employment contract were illegal. She simply complained that they interfered with her lifestyle. But employment conditions often interfere with a worker’s lifestyle, and no one should have a right to a job with a religious employer while violating the job contract.

The disgruntled former employee claims that she was unaware that her action violated her contract, but the contract she signed clearly required her to follow Catholic teachings. Ignorance about the obvious meaning of an employment contract is not sufficient to prove that she was wrongfully terminated by her religious employer. There is something mighty wrong with a judge forcing a Catholic school to pay a $100,000 penalty for firing that employee.

This federal court order conflicts with the reasoning in another case I told you about a couple of months ago. In that earlier case, the Supreme Court held that a teacher could not sue a Lutheran school for being fired because the First Amendment protected the religious liberty of the school and would "interfere with the internal government of the church." The Supreme Court correctly noted that religious freedom is at the heart of the rule that employees of a religious school should obey the rules of that denomination. It’s unfortunate that other courts haven’t yet gotten that message.

Attack on Freedom of a Catholic School

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