Catholic School Teacher Fired for Getting Pregnant via Artificial Insemination Wins Lawsuit

Before she conceived her daughter, who is now a toddler, Christa Dias worked as a technology coordinator in two Ohio parochial schools, both governed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

This same diocese now owes Dias more than $170,000 — $100,000 in punitive damages, $20,000 in compensatory damages, and $51,000 worth of back pay — as the result of a wrongful dismissal suit. After revealing her pregnancy at 5 ½ months gestation, when she went to speak to school administrators about her options for maternity leave, Dias lost her jobs at Holy Family School and St. Lawrence Elementary.

Christa Dias with her daughter (Gary Landers – Cincinnati Enquirer)

The Archdiocese alleges that she was fired for a breach of her contract, which stipulated that she must “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church” since she was a teacher at a Catholic school. Dias was an unmarried woman, then-closeted but now living openly as a lesbian in Atlanta, who conceived her child via artificial insemination. No one involved in the case claimed that Dias’ sexual orientation played a role in her dismissal. However, the Church considers both out-of-wedlock pregnancy and artificial insemination to be serious moral problems.

The particular circumstances of Dias’ pregnancy are addressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple — donation of a sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus — are gravely immoral. These techniques — heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization — infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other”.

As a non-Catholic, Dias might never have come into contact with the Catechism. (Indeed, many Catholics have never read it!) She testified in court that she was unaware of the Church’s teaching on artificial insemination. She interpreted the contract she signed based on her own less-doctrinal understanding of what it means to be a Christian — reading and following the Bible, living by the example of Jesus… (you know, heresy.)

A jury found Dias’ dismissal unjust, but legal experts expect the case to be appealed. It touches on several dramatic and controversial issues. For instance, the law permits religious organizations to impose religious restrictions on their ministerial employees. But who qualifies as a “ministerial employee,” involved in the transmission of faith? Does the mere fact of teaching non-religious subjects in a parochial school make one subject to the same rules as a religious minister?

The case also raises some concerns about whether morality clauses in employment contracts are legally enforceable. To what extent is it fair to permit religiously-affiliated employers to enforce or police employees’ adherence to dogma outside of the workplace?

Dias has also pointed out that the school’s pregnancy-based policies are inherently biased against women, since men who participate in artificial insemination or who father children out of wedlock are invisible and therefore not subject to punishment.

In an ironic final twist, James Kiffmeyer, the pastor who fired Dias, was himself in a spot of trouble in 2002, when he was suspended from his position and stripped of his priesthood as a high school teacher following allegations of sexual misconduct involving two male students. The Vatican overruled Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk by restoring Kiffmeyer’s priestly status and commanded him to “closely guard his personal behavior.” They then reassigned him to the position he held when he removed Dias from her job. (A year ago he left the priesthood and now works in a pharmacy.) How’s that for a double-standard?

Meanwhile, Dias says she’ll keep fighting even if the ruling is challenged.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Glasofruix

    For a “developped” country with lots of “freedom” you sure have a lot of idiotic rules that make you seem like a third world theocracy. I’m quite sure that a morality clause wouldn’t fly high in a court around here, “What mr Employer, you fired mr Employee here because he had sex outside of work? My, that’s some grave privacy intrusion here, i suggest you avoid dropping the soap in the shower”

  • jdm8

    A morality clause seems so open ended as to be unenforceable. I bet that you could find an excuse to fire anyone, and only use it against people you want to get rid of.

  • ~SoACTing

    It should be noted and pointed out (and someone with much more knowledge is free to correct me if I’m wrong), but the way this is written one might be tempted to question the validity of any moral contract clauses in contracts after this case. The reasons why other moral contract clauses and, more specifically, why the plaintiff actually won came down to two specific factors: First and foremost, pregnancy discrimination is specifically prohibited for non-ministerial discrimination under federal law, and second, the contract did not specifically mention “artificial insemination”, as such, there was no “meeting of the minds” as to the meaning of the morality clause in the contract.

    ~ SoACTing

  • jdm8

    One thing that seems to be a problem is a religious organization can deem anyone a minister to take bypass employment restrictions. I think the Supreme Court has affirmed this take on calling any employee ministers a year or two ago.

  • Stev84

    Yup, they can just force teachers to give some sort of religious instruction now and then and that will magically turn them into “ministers” according to the law.

  • faithtoo

    What Sarah Dias did is utterly against many Catholic standards. As well, every teacher is a role model for his/her students and I suggest that Dias is a poor and confused one.

  • Anna

    Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple — donation of a sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus — are gravely immoral. These techniques — heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization — infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other”.

    I’m not sure why they’re focusing here on sperm donation because they’re equally against a husband impregnating his wife with his own sperm via artificial insemination. All that matters is that he ejaculates into a little cup instead of in his wife’s vagina. That’s all it takes for the Catholic church to tag something as “gravely immoral.”

    Also, they keep using the word “right.” I do not think it means what they think it means.

  • Anna

    To be completely fair, most teachers in Catholic elementary schools do give religious instruction. Not art teachers or technology coordinators, but the main teachers in charge of classrooms do. I don’t have a problem with the schools requiring that they follow the Catholic church’s rules.

  • RobertoTheChi

    How so?

  • Cattleya1

    I thought they believed anyone not RC or in one of the Orthodox churches they recognize, was going to hell… Why would they hire someone destined for hell and place them near their children? And what of all those little illegitimate babies adopted out by RC adoption agencies around the world? Do many of them know who their real parents were? And what is the problem with IVF babies – do their souls somehow get lost on the way to the petri dish? The RC church is a big, rich bully living in a house of cards.

  • allein

    My former roommate taught 5th grade in a Catholic school, and traded off a couple classes with the 4th grade teacher (she taught 4th grade math and the other teacher taught 5th grade English or something like that). She also had to teach the 4th grade religion class because the 4th grade teacher was not Catholic (she was Methodist) and therefore was not allowed to teach religion.

  • Stev84

    Well, there we go. Since she isn’t Catholic she couldn’t teach religion or pray with Catholics anyways. They are like aliens compared to her after all. So she couldn’t possibly be a ministerial employee.

  • Anna

    Fair enough, as long as they kick out all the divorced and remarried teachers, too. And all the teachers who ever lived with a partner without being married or conceived a child outside of marriage. If the school allows any of them, then it should allow Dias.

    Heck, I would go even further and say that if the Catholic church is really serious, it ought to stop focusing on gays and unmarried women and go after all the people who break the rules. No Catholic schools should accept children with divorced or remarried parents or parents that use birth control, and those parents should not be allowed to participate in the parish or school community. They’re all bad examples according to Catholic dogma. If the Catholic church wants to be exclusive, then they should go whole hog instead of being selective about it.

  • Stev84

    They don’t even fire men who do this. There was a case where an unmarried woman got pregnant naturally. She was fired. Her boyfriend, who also worked for the church, wasn’t.

  • RobMcCune

    You know she’s not a Catholic, right?

  • Stev84

    Btw, “artificial insemination” is not synonymous with IVF. It’s more likely that she merely used donor sperm. Their position on IVF at least follows from their position on abortion. But being against using donor sperm in general is absurd and comes from the same silly place as their position against oral sex and mutual masturbation.

  • Anna

    That’s interesting. The Catholic school my boyfriend attended boasted that all the teachers were Catholic (at least, that’s what’s written on his old report cards). If a school is willing to hire non-Catholics at all, then I don’t see any reason why they should require them to follow Catholic dogma, especially since they’re not allowed to teach religion.

  • sara

    It seems to me that Art would be one of the few classes where religion should appropriately be discussed.

  • Anna

    Religious double standards strike again!

  • ~SoACTing

    Well, Dias was a computer technology teacher and before the trial the archdiocese tried to argue that she was a “ministerial employee”; a position that has NOT been clearly defined by the courts.

    The Supreme Court has said religious groups can dismiss those employees without government interference. But Klinger insisted Dias has no such ministerial duties, and the Cincinnati court found she WAS NOT a ministerial employee and that the issue COULD NOT BE argued at trial.

    So, yes, the Supreme Court has ruled on it, but they left enough room of uncertainty as to who is and who is not a ministerial employee.

    From this, one can almost guarantee two things: 1. On appeal, this issue of what constitutes “ministerial exception” will most certainly be raised, and 2. The Diocese will rewrite their contracts for clarity in regards to IVF, thereby eliminating any other court worthy case (since courts have already ruled in favor of parochial schools upholding a moral code among staff).

    Or maybe, just maybe, precedent will be set by the appeals court in favor of the rights of women seeking to reproduce over rights of the religious employers. One can dream…right?

    ~ SoACTing

  • Anna

    Art history, for sure. But most art classes for elementary school students just involve painting and drawing. And of course even art history doesn’t require religious instruction, ie: prayers, learning about the importance of sacraments, etc.

  • C Peterson

    Nope, still not “fair enough”.

    The school is a business. The church should be able to impose absolutely no restrictions or requirements except for what is allowed by the state for any business.

    Allowing a church business to have special rules is unconstitutional, and breaks the wall of separation between state and religion.

  • Carmelita Spats

    So an organized crime syndicate that covers up kiddie fuckingis a good role model for, um, children?

    Ah, consistency…The Catholic employer needs check EVERY single female employee’s vagina for an IUD since the Catholic Church considers the IUD to be an abortifacient. The RCC claims that the IUD affects the lining of the uterus and does not let the fertilized egg (“tiny person”) implant itself. Thus, women who use an IUD are creating a Dachau-In-Utero for the “tiny person”. This makes Baby Jesus cry. IUDs and birth control pills are against CATHOLIC standards. See the freak show below and be amazed!

    This means that the ONLY birth control method that these “moral role models” can use is the Rhythm/Billings/Creyton method which involves pulling and scratching the vulva, extracting vaginal mucus, playing with vaginal mucus (slippery or stretchy?), charting your temperature, and abstaining for such a long length of time that in “Pre-Cana” classes they suggest marital sex during the woman’s menstrual cycle. EWWWW! All I ask for is CONSISTENCY in every instance of wide-eyed cult orthopraxy.

  • GeraardSpergen

    Seems like a little legislative amendment to better define “ministerial employees” would be appropriate. Say… “whose primary work function is to provide clergy services.”

  • Anna

    As of right now, religious schools (and all other religious organizations) do have special rules. Whether they should have them could certainly be debated.

  • allein

    I don’t know how many non-Catholic teachers they have but I know they have a number of non-Catholic students (mostly Indian, I believe).

  • GloomCookie613

    I suggest you come back to reality and drop the holier-than-thou routine. It’s beyond played out.

  • Anna

    My boyfriend only remembers one girl from a non-Catholic family in his class. It was noticeable because she was the only student who didn’t participate in the sacraments.

  • Pattrsn

    You do realize this is no longer the 19th century.

  • C Peterson

    You’re right, they do have special rules, in violation of the First Amendment. It’s a problem.

  • allein

    So what happens if you get pregnant and then get divorced before the baby is born? Is it still considered out of wedlock?

  • Anna

    Interesting question. The Catholic church doesn’t recognize divorce, so surely that child would be considered to have been born to two married parents. But the parents would have committed a grave sin by choosing to break up their marriage.

    Here’s some information from one of my favorite places to lurk:

    It’s like a train wreck, but I can’t look away!

  • JET

    It is all about controlling women and their bodies, not men and theirs.

  • JET

    I assume you’re Catholic, or at least a sympathizer. Please explain why this woman is less moral than a priest who rapes little boys. And why would you remain in a church that openly and admittedly looks the other way when little boys are raped by priests? Do you seriously not see that there is a problem with the way the church treats women and children?

  • Rain

    However, the Church considers both out-of-wedlock pregnancy and artificial insemination to be serious moral problems.

    Yeah, quoted for irony…

  • Mario Strada

    However, the Church considers both out-of-wedlock pregnancy and artificial insemination to be serious moral problems.

    Strangely they didn’t mention fu**ing little boys…

  • imokyrok

    In Ireland 95% of the schools are Catholic but they don’t fire people in these situations. I haven’t heard of such a thing in my lifetime anyway.

  • Mario Strada

    Not only that, they initially hired him to do her work.

  • Baby_Raptor

    How would a child have a “right” concerning its DNA? That concept doesn’t even make sense. Who would the child seek recompense from if this “right” were violated? And how are the parents “known to” the child when it’s born? How does marriage even come into it? A newborn doesn’t even know to breathe on it’s own…How is it going to grasp whether or not it’s parents have a piece of paper?

    And people have an inherent “right” to only have kids with their spouse? Well, what if I want to waive that right and have a child with someone else? What if I wish to waive that right and have a child when I lack a spouse? Are infertile people just screwed? Oh, and having an inherent “right” to only have children with one’s spouse means that abortion for rape should be inarguably legal, or you’re violating the woman’s “right!”

    The Catholic church is lying it’s rear off. It’s taking doctrine and trying to make it more palatable by calling the commands “rights.”

  • Miss_Beara

    At times it seems like the RCC is pro fetus, and at a lot of times they are, but not entirely. They are pro control of women. Odd that the “serious moral problems” pertain to women, including those radical feminist nuns, but priests raping children for decades isn’t.

    I just cannot figure out how anyone with good conscience can be a Catholic.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yeah? What did she do that’s so “poor and confused”? You personally disapprove of her being a lesbian, or having a child by herself. Okay.

    But what did she actually DO that visibly shows bad character, or could potentially harm the students?

    And what about those Catholics whose “standards” her actions aren’t against? Do they just not matter because they disagree with you?

    Also, your entire argument is a non-starter, because you’re talking about schools run by a religious organization that regularly protects and offers more victims to child rapists. What one teacher did in her personal life is NOTHING compared to that, but it doesn’t seem to phase you at all.

  • Baby_Raptor

    That would never pass. Way too restrictive. Nowhere near enough control over other people.

  • Robster

    Hang on, isn’t this mob worried about dwindling numbers of bottoms on their uncomfortable pews? In the old days, big families were ‘catholic’ families. Surely they could pretend that the Holy spook was the father, like at mary woman is said to have done in their bible and they’d end up with more potential young victims for their absurd dogma and for their priests to prey on. Good news for the catholic church all round.

  • Carpinions

    Any more these days, it’s as if the Catholic Church was assembled explicitly TO BE immoral and reprehensible.

  • ~SoACTing

    I’m assuming one would say she had the child out of wedlock, but conceived in “holy matrimony” ?? Lol

    Unfortunately, either way, they’d still consider the kid a bastard child.

    ~ SoACTing

  • ~SoACTing

    As George Carlin would say:

    “… Catholics and other Christians are against abortions, and they’re against homosexuals. Well who has less abortions than homosexuals?! Leave these fucking people alone, for Christ sakes! Here is an entire class of people guaranteed never to have an abortion! And the Catholics and Christians are just tossing them aside! You’d think they’d make natural allies…”

    ~ SoACTing

  • Anna

    Let’s not forget the Catholic church’s history with adoption!

    These techniques — heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization — infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him

    So donor insemination infringes on the child’s right, but adoption doesn’t? If they really believe all children have a right to be raised knowing their biological parents, then why did the Catholic church for generations pressure, shame, guilt, and outright force unmarried girls and women to place their babies for adoption and ensure that they were raised by non-biological parents? Ah, yes, because those adoptive parents were good, faithful, married Catholics.

    It’s another case of hypocrisy in the Catholic church. They don’t really care about biology. They care about people (especially women) breaking their rules.

  • DavidMHart

    The thing to remember, though, is that those particular Catholic standards are completely insane. Nobody whose moral compass hasn’t been utterly warped by their religious beliefs could possibly think they were a good idea, or that the teacher in question was unsuitable to be a teacher because she didn’t hold to them.

    She might be unsuited to being, say, a Catholic priest, but if you’re going to employ people to do ordinary secular jobs, you ought to expect the government to afford those employees the normal secular employment rights that everyone else has, regardless of how daft your own beliefs are.

  • MD

    If you’re a married Catholic couple, and you can’t get pregnant, tough shit! It’s God’s plan. Of course, I know a lot of people who shouldn’t be hear according to their religion, but shhhhh….

  • MD

    The RCC didn’t give much thought to the right to know both your parents when it aided in the illegal secret adoptions of political prisoners’ babies in Argentina and Spain.
    There are people still searching for their children and grandchildren today.

  • GCT

    And why would you remain in a church that openly and admittedly looks the other way when little boys are raped by priests?

    That’s giving them too much credit. They didn’t just look the other way, the actively facilitated it and then covered it up.

  • mike

    I have a legal question. If non-minister teachers can be granted immunity from moral clauses, can doctors be granted immunity from moral clauses at Catholic Hospitals? This would be an excellent end-run around the lack of medical freedom at Catholic medical facilities everywhere.

  • The Other Weirdo

    They just have laundries.

  • Kengi

    Being an outsider, you may not know much about our history. Our nation was founded on the principles of granting freedoms and privileges to white male land holders. In today’s world, this is translated to mean white male business owners.

  • Sven2547

    Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple…

    Unless it’s the Catholic Church itself. Then they have free reign to intrude on as many relationships as they see fit.

  • Anna

    I didn’t even know they were involved in that! Is there no end to the horrible things the Catholic church has done?

    I was mostly thinking of Ireland, where adoption practices ran beyond guilt and coercion to outright force. For many young girls and women, there was no choice. Their babies were simply taken away from them.

  • Glasofruix

    That’s exactly why from an outsider’s point of view your country seems backwards, you have close to zero laws protecting your own citizens against the will of an employer…

  • Space Cadet

    It’s easy for them to remain Catholic. All it takes is for them to ignore issues like the rape scandal. Or “tsk-tsk” people who bring up the various ethical flaws within the Church, claiming we’re missing the forest for the trees.

  • Space Cadet

    My understanding of divorce within the church is that if it’s annulled it’s like the marriage never happened in the first place. (I fully admit I may be completely wrong there) In allein’s scenario, I think the child would not only be considered born out of wedlock, but conceived out of wedlock.

  • Anna

    Only if it’s annulled, though. Annulment isn’t automatic. It’s one way to get around the divorce prohibition, but there are very specific rules.

    It sounds like the previous Pope was actually try to crack down on all the bogus reasons given by people who want their marriages annulled:

    According to Canon 1095 a marriage can be declared null only when consent was given in the presence of some grave lack of discretionary judgment regarding the essential rights and obligations of marriage, or of some real incapacity to assume these essential obligations. Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the Roman Rota in 2009,[13] echoing words of his predecessor John Paul II, has criticized “the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity of marriage in cases of the failure of marriage on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties”. Calling for “the reaffirmation of the innate human capacity for matrimony”, he insisted on the point made in 1987 by John Paul II that “only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent invalidates a marriage”.[14]

  • C Peterson

    By far the most common justification for annulment (even though everyone understands it’s a lie) is failure to consummate. But that one’s kind of a hard sell when there are children. Not that church leaders aren’t masters of constructing tortuous justifications, however.

  • MD

    Young dissident women were “disappeared” during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970′s. if they were pregnant, they were held until they gave birth and the babies were given to approved junta supporters. It was found that the RCC helped by providing baptismal certificates listing the adopting families as the real families.

  • Space Cadet

    I didn’t realize the annulment process was so difficult. In my extended family there have been three annulments in the last 10 years, and while the process took a while it didn’t seem too difficult. Of course, that’s from an outsiders perspective, and I likely didn’t hear the entire story.

  • Anna

    Wow, three annulments? I take it your family must be hardcore Catholic. In practice, the rules must not be that strict. It seems like the Pope was bemoaning the fact that people were abusing the system. I would imagine that most of these couples lie through their teeth, just the same as the interfaith couples who want a Catholic wedding and will lie and attend classes and say they plan to raise their children Catholic so they can get what they want.

  • Space Cadet

    The funny thing is is that the majority of my family aren’t hardcore Catholics. They just pick and choose which doctrines, rituals, etc are important to them. I know, not uncommon. I guess annulment is one them.

  • Anna

    Interesting. Most of my extended family is Catholic, but the only annulment I’ve ever heard of was one back in the 1950s. That uncle later went on to have two more marriages, both ended by regular divorce. Tons of other relatives are divorced and remarried with kids, and a bunch of those kids are in Catholic schools.

  • Hat Stealer

    Also, “They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other”? That sounds less like a right and more like an obligation.

  • Anna

    Truly a bizarre concept! Not to mention how insulting it is to people who have become parents “not through each other.”

  • Matt Davis

    There is a very good reason (from their point of view) why the Catholic Church puts foetuses high above anybody else in terms of importance. Indoctrination. Any baby born to a good Catholic couple is much more likely to be indoctrinated, which means more churchgoers and more money in the collection pot. And more political power as a result of more people identifying as Catholic. They don’t want pesky things like non-practising Catholics who actually let their children think for themselves! That’s far more important than preventing abuse, of course…!