Monday, March 2, 2015

Federal Jury Holds Catholic School Accountable for Sex Discrimination

Emily Herx was a literature and language arts teacher for seven years at a Catholic school in Indiana. For years she had been trying to have a second child, and elected to go through vitro fertilization as a means to achieve her second pregnancy. She was shocked to learn that her contract with the school would not be renewed due to her procedure. Her religious employers had deemed her a “grave, immoral sinner” for the use of the vitro fertilization, and felt she was no longer fit to teach at their institution. Emily filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the local diocese on the grounds of sex discrimination. The school responded to the lawsuit claiming that they were exempt from the federal anti-discrimination laws because “their decision to fire Emily was motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs.” After a four-day trial, the jury found that the school had in fact discriminated against Emily, and awarded her a $1.9 million settlement.

            In principle, I agree with the courts decision to award Emily a settlement. In accordance with the free exercise clause, we all have the right to our beliefs. However, the church does not have the right to discriminate on the grounds of their beliefs. My contention with the case comes from the healthcare side of the issue. Part of the healthcare program the school provided for Mrs. Herx would have gone toward the payment of her procedure. When there is a financial stake in her procedure, does the school have the right to terminate her employment? Does their right to discriminate extend when they are forced to pay for the procedure that their beliefs fundamentally denounce? In this case, I believe it does. The Catholic school is a private organization, and I believe that their financial matters warrant their right to deny Mrs. Herx employment. The families who choose to send their children to this school pay tuition, which goes toward the operations and maintenance of the school. Every dollar that goes into this school does so with the expectation of their children receiving an education that is grounded in catholic roots. I don’t believe that the families would approve of the allocation of funds toward healthcare procedures that go directly against their deepest beliefs. I believe that the only reason the church has any grounds to terminate Mrs. Herx’s employment come from this fiscal perspective. Had the church held no financial stake in the matter, I believe they have no right to discriminate against Mrs. Herx.

Where do you stand regarding the sex discrimination in this case? Do you feel that the fiscal entanglement between the church and Mrs. Herx’s procedure warrants their right to terminate her employment?

Article:https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights-religion-belief/victory-federal-jury-holds-catholic-school-accountable-sex-discri

Secondary Source:http://www.aleteia.org/en/education/article/the-real-reason-teacher-emily-herx-was-fired-for-using-ivf-5806364098035712

8 comments:

Morgan M said...

I agree with Will that the Catholic school should not be able to discriminate against Emily Herx, but unfortunately the procedure she was attempting to undergo used funding from the private entity and therefore was not a violation of her rights. As a private school the entity has the right to choose where their funds go and as this was a tenant that was clearly against the ideas of the Catholic religion and they should have the freedom to choose how their money is used. Also after further research, I found that according to the conditions of her employment "Acknowledging and accepting the religious and moral nature of the Church’s teaching mission, the undersigned agrees to conduct herself or himself at all times, professionally and personally, in accordance with the episcopal teaching authority, law and governance of the Church in this diocese."
According to this agreement that Emily signed she was acknowledging that she must cooperate to what her employer wants according to religious values.
That being said, if Mrs. Herx has been using her own private funds then I do not think that the church would have the right to fire her. Emily Herx has the right to choose how she wants to use her own body and her own private funds and therefore her employer should have no control over that. Similarly the employer should respect Emily's own choice of how to use her body and conceive a child.

Liz E said...

I agree with you that while it does not seem fair to discriminate against Ms Herx due to her procedure, it also does not seem fair to have tax payer dollars go towards a procedure that is against the religion of the school. Similarly, would the school's healthcare benefits have been able to cover abortions or other procedures that are against their religion? I don't believe that you can force a school to provide healthcare coverage for issues that they religious do not agree with. However, I do not believe that she should have been fired. Maybe the school could have said we will not cover this procedure and that is up to you, but it should not have fired her and left her unemployed.

Adam Drake said...

I agree here as well. This medical procedure is a direct violation of the professed beliefs of the Catholic Church. The state, or any individual, cannot compel a religious group to allocate their finances in a way that endorses behaviors in violation of their beliefs. This is especially true because the school is a private organization with their own money. Having a teacher there who doesn't embody the beliefs of the Church is a threat to the school and Church as a whole. There is also no constitutional right to employment. Had Ms. Herx looked into the past actions of the Catholic Church they have a history of firing employees who partake in behaviors outside its scripture.

Molly H. said...

I had trouble with choosing whether to concur or dissent with this article since I was not aware that vitro fertilization went against the Catholic Religion. After looking it up, I was informed that artificial insemination was in fact forbidden from the Catholic religion, yet Pope Benedict, in 2012, spoke to married couples that were struggling to reproduce and "encouraged medical research". Granted, Ms Herx did voluntarily work for a Catholic school and I'm sure was more than aware that her religion did not allow artificial insemination, yet continued to do so. It would not be fair to discriminate against Ms Herx if she worked in a non-denominational setting, but since she was an active employee of a Catholic school, I think that she consciously violated the beliefs of the Catholic Church and therefore should not have been granted the settlement.

Libby W said...

I agree with everything that has been stated thus far, but I also think it would be informative to know the smaller details involved with Herx's contract with the school. Does it clearly state that the provided healthcare would not be allowed to go towards medical procedures such as this? If so then it is clear that the school was within their rights to dismiss her, but if not then this issue gets more complicated. I agree that the school should not have to provide funding for something the Catholic Church does not support, but without this directly stated I think she was somewhat within her rights to use her healthcare for a desired medical procedure. It could also be brought into question what other teachers are using their healthcare for. Would the school be okay with paying for plastic surgery?

Nate McGuinness said...

I'm having trouble coming down on one side or another, although most seem to agree the money from the private institution should definitely not go towards funding a procedure that is in direct violation of their belief system, and with how this argument is phrased I would probably agree, although I don't know if that's the proper way to frame this particular issue. If all employee's receive equal benefits and healthcare coverage from this employer and then those employee's decided individual what various procedures to undergo or not undergo on their own volition then that is inherently more indirect than some people are making it out to be, I'm not saying it should be allowed I'm just pointing out it's no longer a point A to point B paradigm. In this sense, as long as Ms. Herx is not receiving more than anyone else and choosing to take advantage of the same benefits everyone else does as she see's fit I feel like she should be able to, I don't see it as forcing the private institution to endorse something it clearly doesn't stand for, they've made it abundantly clear they don't stand for it, message received, they are really just being forced to provide equal healthcare coverage for their employee's, what the employee's do with that is on them, no one should be fired for those choices, I think most people get it religious organizations don't want individuals to use these benefits and direct them towards things like birth control etc, so my question is who gives a shit at this point, their concern that they'll be perceived as an organization that endorses these practices has never been a reality, and in terms of being forced because they look down on the specific procedures I suppose an employer could contend well I don't think therapy is necessary nor do I take mental health seriously I think it's just general moral weakness and I don't want to be forced to have these benefits I'm providing go to your subsequent treatment, tough shit, as long as everyone gets equal benefits toward healthcare ends than what they use them for shouldn't be subject to their employer's 'moral' judgement, idk I could be wrong

robert bryson said...

The School had every right to discriminate against Mrs. Herx. Not only due to the fiscal involvement but simply because she was acting in such a way that the Catholic school found contradictory to their religious beliefs. Given this contradiction with the school's desired nonsecular teachings that they would like to advance (i.e. the Catholic teachings) the termination of Mrs. Herx employment was not unconstitutional. The Court was incorrect to award Emily Herx any sum of money. This is not a public, government funded organization and therefore I believe that they should be exempt from any anti-discrimination laws if it contradicts their religious beliefs.

Brandon Farrell said...

I agree with the other comments posted that the school had to uphold the sanctity of their religion by terminating Mrs. Herx after she underwent with the procedure. The church and the diocese cannot be funding medical procedure that go against the teaching of the Catholic faith. Morgan provided amble evidence that Mrs. Herx was well aware of the guidelines of her employment before agreeing to undergo the procedure. In my opinion, the court ruled incorrectly in awarding her the settlement.