Teacher fired after fertility treatments sues diocese

CNN reports:

A teacher at a Catholic school in Indiana is suing the diocese where she worked after being fired because the in vitro fertilization treatments she received were considered against church teachings.

Emily Herx, a former English teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

She says in the suit filed Friday that she was discriminated against in 2011 after the school’s pastor found out that she had begun treatments with a fertility doctor, according to the complaint.

Herx says the school’s priest called her a “grave, immoral sinner” and told her she should have kept mum about her fertility treatments because some things are “better left between the individual and God,” the complaint said.

“I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” Herx told CNN on Thursday. “I had never had any complaints about me as a teacher.”

In 2010, Herx learned that she suffered from a medical condition that caused infertility. At that time, she told her principal she needed time off for IVF treatment. Her request was granted and the principal allegedly told Herx: “You are in my prayers.”

Herx is claiming sex discrimination and disabilities discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and requesting lost wages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and compensation for her mental anguish and emotional distress.

This is an important lawsuit that will determine how far a religious school can go to control the behavior of its staff.

No employer has the right to control another human being’s body like this, to take away a teacher’s wages, her job, because she was treated for a medical condition.

As a commenter to this post asked: If a male teacher at that school was found to have a wife who was having fertility treatments, would he also be fired? Conceiving a child takes a contribution from both male and female.

Just like infertility, pregnancy is also medical condition. Women have all kinds of serious health complications from ectoptic pregnancies to hemorrhaging. Contraception is preventative health care. Women’s bodies are different than men’s bodies and have different medical needs. To deny women health care based on those differences is to deny women a basic human right. It’s sex discrimination, and it is appalling that this kind of abuse is tolerated in America.

The Herx case also shows the hypocrisy of the Catholic church which claims it’s defending a “right to life.” Whose life? What about the embryos created in the IVF treatment? According to the church, don’t those embryos have a “right to life?”

Clearly, the “right to life” has little to do with supporting “life” and everything to do with controlling women’s bodies. The church is terrified to allow “grave and immoral sinners” to be in charge of their own reproduction.

Obviously, this whole issue goes to the abortion debate which should never have strayed into the ambiguous, infinitely vague, existential question: when does life begin?

The abortion debate should be centered on one issue: the rights of a human being versus the rights of an embryo/ fetus.

As long as a fetus is physically dependent on another human being, you cannot force a human being to give birth or not to give birth. A moral government cannot force abortions (as in China) or make them illegal. Reproductive rights are human rights. For a male-dominated government or organization to take away the rights of its female citizens is a crime.

Please read my follow up post: Women’s rights are not a ‘cultural’ issue.

38 thoughts on “Teacher fired after fertility treatments sues diocese

  1. This is a sad story of sex discrimination.

    But is it the fault of “men” trying to regulate “women’s” bodies, as this blog post suggests using words such as “male dominated society”.

    Go to any evengelical wake in front of a planned parenthood clinic, and you see at the very least as many women as men. Religion, on the whole, is more strongly adhered to and lived by by women than by men.

    Alhtough this affects women, I do not think this caused by male oppression at all, and making it look like that is counter productive. Instead, you better try to convince religious women to stop this madness. Not a clue how to do this, because reasoning with religious folk is practically impossible.

  2. Emily is in good hands. Her father is a lawyer and he’s on board defending her in this case. But it is still an uphill battle. The CC has a battery of lawyers to combat anyone that goes against their teachings.

  3. This reminds me of the woman who was fired from her job as a teacher because she’d worked as a call girl to pay her way through college. The cases are wildly different, but they both centre on the school trying to control what its female teachers do with their bodies outside of the classroom. In my opinion, what a teacher does outside of the school in a situation that does not involve his or her pupils is irrelevant and none of the school’s concern.

  4. That is properly crazy.

    My brother and I used to have an “In America” thing… we decided if you preceded anything with “in America”, no matter how bonkers it was, it would be believable. No disrespect to your fine country, but this is one of those! “In America – you can lose your job for having IVF”.

    How any right thinking person could think anything like this is beyond me. It makes no sense on any level. Misguided people doing things in the name of a misinterpreted religion. I am actually angry!

  5. While I agree with your sentiment, to be fair, she was part of a religious institution and has to play by their rules. the Catholic church is not shy about instituting the hypocritical traits required to be followed by females (not males)in their organization: submission, no speaking out, and you have to have a lot of babies for the church (in the “right” way, of course). Religious organizations have legal rights to discriminate freely. If she wanted autonomy, she should not have worked for such an oppressive company (the church).

    • Hi Skeletal,

      Freedom of religion does not give an organization the right to take away the fundamental human rights of another person. No religion should be able to legally be able to deny a human being basic health care.

      MM

      • yeah, but legally, the church can fire someone if they do not adhere to church rules. The Catholic church is straight up on their rules. I agree they SHOULDN”T have that right, especially because they are tax exempt, and therefore hold government favor. But that is how our laws are written. Take it up with the legal/political system that favors religious organizations, not the church. The church wears its’s bigotry and anti-female attitudes on its sleeve. Can’t blame them when they enforce those views.

        • Hi Skeletal,

          But what if the church said ‘women should be burned at the stake.’ That would not be allowed, correct? Or if the church believed adults could have sex with children.

          We need to stop thinking of women’s rights as a cultural issue. It is a political one. People STILL look at the gender apartheid of the Taliban as cultural issue and would never look at the former racist government of South Africa like that.

          MM

        • Skeletal,

          I’m afraid I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. While the case could be argued (as you are trying to do) that the Catholic church has the legal “right” to uphold its own laws (whatever those may be), it doesn’t have the moral “right” to be inconsistent about it, or hypocritical in its application of those rules. It also doesn’t have the *legal* right to disobey federal laws to which it is subject, so it will be interesting to see whether the courts feel that those federal anti-discrimination laws have been broken.

          I disagree with your assertion that we can’t blame the church for its anti-female attitudes and bigotry. Certainly we can! We can *also*, as you pointed out, blame the legal system for giving the church latitude to have sexist policies, but I would say that not only *can* we criticize the church for having incorrect attitudes and policies, but we *should*. It is when people are silent that sexism and bigotry prevail.

      • Although I don’t disagree entirely, I think it’s very important that we understand that, in this case, there has been no violation of a “human right.” The Church chose not to renew Herx’s contract (they didn’t “fire” her) NOT because she had a medical condition, but because she chose a particular treatment for that medical condition. IVF kills embryos. The Church believes that doing so is murder. If the Church fired her for simply having the medical condition, that is clearly against the ADA. But the Church didn’t do that. It’s about the treatment, not the condition.

        It’s important that we’re honest about this, because I think it’s very dangerous to start saying that access to a particular treatment is a “human right.” For one, that serves to make the very term “human rights” practically meaningless. It’s not a serious thing to say. If I sign an employment contract in which I am required to uphold a particular moral standard, and I violate that standard, it’s well within my employer’s rights to terminate me or subject me to discipline (just look at what happens to players in major sports leagues for off-the-field escapades). If I don’t like it, I’m free to work someplace else. That’s the law. It’s hardly a violation of my “human rights.” Whether or not it’s a violation of the ADA is up to the courts to decide, but I have a feeling this case won’t get very far.

        There are actual human rights violations going on in the world right now. This woman’s case is not one of them.

          • I don’t think you did, actually. You appear to be conflating firing someone for having a medical condition with firing someone with how they choose to treat it. One is explicitly against the ADA, the other is more of a gray area. Of the two, only being fired for a disability or medical condition could reasonably be called a violation of a “human right.” And that’s simply not what happened here. You haven’t actually articulated why you believe this is a violation of someone’s “human rights.” You just say that it is.

          • Hi tfurious,

            One more time: for a woman not to be able to get medical treatment for a condition specific to her gender is sex discrimination,

            MM

        • tfurious,

          There are four things I’d like to address in your summary. First, arguing that the school didn’t fire the teacher, they simply “didn’t renew her contract” is a distinction without a difference. ‘Nuff said.

          Second, you argue that it is not discriminatory to fire someone for getting *treated* for a medical condition; it is only discriminatory to fire someone for *having* a medical condition. Again, this is a distinction without a real difference. If employers were able to fire people for *treating* their medical conditions, but not able to fire them for *having* medical conditions, it would essentially allow employers to bar their employees for seeking medical treatment for *any* condition. How would this differ from their being fired for *having* the medical condition, since they wouldn’t be seeking the treatment if they didn’t have the condition in the first place? As an example, if an employer fires someone for having eye surgery to treat their blindness because the employer doesn’t agree with the techniques used by the surgeon, how would this differ for firing someone because they were blind? In essence, if this sort of policy *were* true, the ADA would be saying to people with disabilities, “Well, you can’t be fired – or not hired – because you have a disability, but you can’t expect to be allowed to get the disability treated, because your employer *can* fire you for that.” That’s not the way the law works. As another example, if a woman is pregnant, and she needs to schedule extra doctor visits because of a complication of pregnancy (say, gestational diabetes), her employer cannot fire her for this, because it would be equivalent to firing her for *being* pregnant (after all, if she weren’t pregnant, she couldn’t possibly need the treatment for the complication of pregnancy).

          Third, you seem to argue that because a religious institution is able to draw up a statement of terms employees must sign, that therefore firing an employee for violating any of those terms cannot be a violation of that employee’s human rights. This does not logically follow. In fact, institutions (and governments) are completely capable of making rules, and even laws, that violate basic human rights. It is one of the important jobs of citizenry to decry such instances when they arise, and to try to change those rules or laws. Surely, for example, (now defunct) laws in the U.S. that allowed people to own slaves were violations of those slaves’ human rights, even though they were laws. There are always people who will argue in favor of unjust laws or rules because those laws or rules are the status quo – the trick is to see outside the box of what is “common knowledge” of the time, and determine what is ultimately *correct*, whether or not it is *legal*.

          Finally, just as a side note (and correction) – and I’ll add the disclaimer that I don’t believe destroying human blastulas is murder – you write that “IVF kills embryos.” The destruction of embryos (I believe they’re about at the blastula stage – a ball of cells – when this is done) is commonly a side effect of IVF, but it isn’t *always* or *necessarily* the case. There are organizations now that offer the “adoption” of leftover embryos from IVF treatments (called “snowflake babies” or something like that) so that those embryos won’t be destroyed (instead, the adopting woman has one or more of those embryos implanted in her uterus).

          Thanks,
          Suzanne

          • HI Suzanne,

            Totally agree.

            Tfurious, why are you so hard to create distinctions? It’s like you’re trying to “win” some argument by intellectualizing a basic human rights issue, throwing in stats as if they validated your point, justifying it all by saying I’m making human rights meaningless. That is such bullshit. Its something white, male liberals do all the time, acting as if a woman’s right to control her own body is some kind of debate game.

            MM

      • A few things for Suzanne: there is very much a legal distinction between being fired (having your employment terminated) and not having your discreet contract renewed. Distinctions are important. Honesty is important. That’s all I’m asking for. Second, I did not anywhere argue that it wasn’t discriminatory for the Church to terminate her contract. In fact, in the other thread, I specifically said it WAS discriminatory and added that it was SEXIST. What I wrote was that the Church didn’t terminate her contract because of her medical condition, they did it because of how she CHOSE to treat it. There are many treatments for infertility. IVF is one option. It’s not even covered by most health insurance plans, and only 13 states require it to be covered by health insurance. It’s a treatment option. That’s the truth. And once again, honesty is important. The rest of your argument in point two is essentially against a straw man. I’m not interested at the moment in responding to arguments about points I didn’t make.

        My whole point is that I don’t believe that having the right to a particular treatment (IVF is not the only available treatment for infertility) constitutes a “human right,” and I personally think it is rhetorically dangerous to argue that it does. It is the most consistent point I have been making, and one that no one seems to actually want to address. Language is important. Do you believe that access to a particular treatment (among many) for a non-life-threatening, non-disabling medical condition is a “human right”? Yes or no? And if so, why do you think that? What are the implications of saying that? Is anybody actually going to attempt to answer that question?

        @ Margot. I must say I’m a bit surprised and insulted by the tone of your response. I pointed out some nuanced distinctions that are important to the discussion and easily overcome, and asked a simple question that you for whatever reason refuse to answer about “human rights.” You’re calling it a basic human rights issue without having to support your contention, and when called upon to support it, have resorted to saying I’m playing some sort of “debate game” with you and calling me a “typical white, male liberal” that you’ve stereotyped into some kind of antifeminist monster. That’s an irony that doesn’t bear further comment.

        Why am I so “hard to create distinctions”? I’m not. I actually have a disabled daughter. Really and truly disabled. And you would be amazed what limitations exist on her “right” to be treated for that disability. (Herx, I will point out, received her treatment. Twice.) The dignity of my daugher’s person is going to be a lifelong issue for her, which goes to the core of what human rights actually are. Likening Herx’s right to be employed by a religious institution while violating one of the basic tenets of its faith to slavery, as Suzanne does, cheapens what human rights mean. It has nothing to do with a woman’s right to control her own body (a right Herx absolutely has and exercised, and one that I’ve written about extensively when I was a regular blogger in the early 2000’s for my own blog and for a few feminist collectives.) It has to do with the power of language (something you should know, as a writer) and the responsibility we have as stewards of rhetoric.

        • tfurious,

          It was not my intention to set up a straw man argument, so let me apologize for misinterpreting the intent of what you wrote.

          Let me also express sympathy for your daughter’s condition and the difficulty you have had in procuring her treatment.

          Just for clarity: I was not attempting to compare the Catholic school’s behavior to slavery. I was attempting to point out that just because a law or a rule exists, it does not make it just, and it does not follow that we cannot (and, indeed, should not) fight against that rule or law.

          Now, there may indeed be a legal difference between being fired and not having one’s contract renewed. That doesn’t really affect the morality of this case, though. And for the sake of honesty, is the effect on the woman any different whether it’s called being fired or her contract not being renewed? I’d say no.

          But to address your main point, here is why this is a human rights issue: for some types of infertility, contrary to what you assert, IVF is indeed the only *treatment* option. As a sufferer of infertility, I am very aware that there are many, many causes and types of infertility, and there are similarly many treatments that may or may not work in any given instance. To override a doctor, who has made the treatment recommendation that s/he feels is the most appropriate for a given medical case, is something that employers – and, indeed, insurance companies, but don’t get me started on that! :p – have no business doing.

          As a comparison, imagine a person who has developed a type of cancer for which there is only one effective type of chemotherapy. Now imagine that the employer, for some reason, finds this particular type of chemotherapy morally unacceptable, and in fact has in the signing agreement for its employees that they must agree never to receive this particular type of chemo. Perhaps this cancer (in this thought experiment) is non-lethal, but will cause pain and anguish through the years if left untreated. Would it be legal for the employer to fire the employee for receiving this type of chemo? Perhaps. Would it be a human rights violation? I’d argue yes. I don’t think employers should have the right to tell their employees which medical treatments they can, and cannot, receive while under their employ.

      • I should clarify that I absolutely believe that control over one’s body is a “human right”. By “it” I meant the question of what constitutes a human right in this particular case. Herx’s control over her fertility was not abrogated. Only her employment at a religious instiutuion.

      • Suzanne, that is a very well-reasoned argument and I thank you for it. And thanks for enhancing the record about infertility and the possible treatments. Let me start by saying that I have mixed feelings about the scenario you described, in which an employer requires the employee to refrain from a certain treatment for their ailment as a condition of their employment. Given that scenario, I agree with you that the employer should not be able to dictate the terms of treatment for the cancer patient. However, since the employee is aware of the condition and is free to accept employment elsewhere, I still have a problem saying that the employer is violating the employee’s “human rights,” especially since the employment agreement is freely-entered. In essence, the employee is agreeing to forgo certain rights in exchange for employment. If the employee agrees to the terms, isn’t she just as complicit in denying herself human rights?

        (That said, I agree that employers shouldn’t be able to dictate which medical treatments they can and cannot receive. It’s a slippery slope to allow employers to object their conscience with regard to medical coverage and practice. What’s to stop an employer from objecting his or her conscience for a medical procedure or medicine because they morally object to the cost? Luckily, there are laws in place now preventing just that kind of scenario.)

        So I would say we’re somewhat at an impasse. If Herx agreed to abide by misogynist Catholic teachings in her private life as a condition of employment, I don’t see how her human rights were violated. If Herx did not agree to this condition, and she were summarily fired for exercising her right to medical care, then certainly the Church has abrogated her human rights.

    • I disagree that religious organizations have legal rights to discriminate freely. For me that is a cynical point of view and does not comply with the first Amendment of our Constitution re: Freedom of religion. Nor does it comply with the 5th and 14th Amendments. Nor does it comply with the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Nor does it comply with the Declaration of Human Rights.

  6. While I agree with your sentiment, to be fair, if you sign on to a religion that readily views women as inferior humans whose primary purpose is to be submissive and to make more babies for the church (in the RIGHT way, of course) then you have to put up with the rest of the religion’s B.S., too. She should have left the institution all together. Religions have protected rights to be butt-holes and discriminate freely. You don’t have to belong to the religion tho.

    • Hi Skeletal,

      Even though religious institutions are exempt from some laws, they have to abide by the federal non-discrimination laws regarding hiring and firing. For example, they couldn’t have fired the woman for being African-American, even if they could have come up with a twisted religious reason to do so. So, if the teacher is suing claiming she was fired under sex discrimination, she may have a valid legal point. It will be interesting to see how the courts interpret that (particularly given how they’ve become more conservative lately).

      But the priest mentioned here wasn’t even following his own religion’s teachings: he told her she should have hidden the “sin” from people. That is advice against his own doctirne, so even if he was claiming that this firing was in line with Catholic doctrine, *he* certainly wasn’t following it.

      It also sounds like the school, although requiring that teachers uphold the [Catholic] church’s teachings and respect them, doesn’t require them to *be* Catholic, so it’s a little harsh to condemn the woman for “belonging to the religion” – she may not have belonged to it; indeed, she may not have fully understood the Catholic church’s prohibition of IVF, particularly given the response the first time she took leave for it (they just told her “We’ll be praying for you,” not “Ok, this is a sin so we’ll be firing you”). Since they “allowed” it the first time, and then declared it “sinful” and fired her the 2nd time, it seems particularly hypocritical: why is something only a sin if one openly acknowledges doing it, and why is it *not* a sin the first time? Just sayin’.

    • ” if you sign on to a religion that readily views women as inferior humans”

      Yeah, the Catholic Church absolutely considers women to be inferior.

      Never mind that the person they revere most next to God himself, held higher above all the Saints and Angels in heaven, the person they call “The Mother of God” and “The Queen of Heaven”, the person who’s image is displayed in every one of their churches and adorned with gold and precious gems, happens to be a woman.

      Yep. Dem evil Katholix sure hates dem womanz alright.

      • Hi fki1979,

        Are you seriously arguing that the CC values women because of the Virgin Mary? VIRGIN. The catholic church is elevating female “purity” and motherhood to be worshipped, not women. Mary’s value was in producing a son.

        MM

      • “Are you seriously arguing that the CC values women because of the Virgin Mary?”

        Yes. I am. And also the countless number of women saints that are revered by the Church.

        But those don’t count to they?

        “VIRGIN. The catholic church is elevating female “purity” and motherhood to be worshipped, not women. Mary’s value was in producing a son.”

        No. You’re wrong.

        The Catholics believe that Mary was that she was an ultra-special and holy woman hand-chosen by God to bear, love, and raise the Savior of Mankind.

        She wasn’t chosen to just pop out the Son of God. She also nursed him and loved him and raised him as a son. And she is believed to be eternally interceding towards Christ for the faithful along with all of the saints.

        They honor Mary herself as the amazing woman who brought the Savior into the world.

        She is honored as the ultimate role model for all Christians, women AND MEN. She is seen as “the perfect Christian”.

        I’m not Catholic, but my Church has very similar views on Mary. I can say, from experience, that the honor given to Mary in the Catholic Church, and in my church, goes a lot deeper then just “producing a son”.

      • “an ultra-special and holy woman hand-chosen by God”
        Precisely: the antithesis of we real, ordinary women, with our disgusting sexuality and incapacity to lead or reason, or have lives that are valuable in and of themselves, separate from our ability to nurture, support and submit to men. The whole point of venerating Mary is her exceptional status, which renders the rest of us hopelessly inferior.

      • Honestly? It’s not about how many women figures of respect a religion has, it is about how it treats your everyday woman, your sinful, flawed woman. Yes, Mary is considered the mother of God Himself and that’s not to sneeze at, however this fact says nothing about how they treat women in general, as evidenced by how we witness them treating women in cases like the one mentioned here.

        Just because something you say is a fact doesn’t mean the next thing you say is too a fact if nothing logically connects them like that.

        In your case: There are women reverenced in the religion discussed. Therefore they respect all women, even if what I’m just reading about contradicts that.

        A similar argument devoid of logical connection could be (only an example):

        Right now it’s not raining where I live. Therefore movies are cool.

    • I think your post talking about ‘”Religions have protected rights to be butt-holes and discriminate freely” is not worthy of serious discussion. Therefore I regard it as “baiting” and dismiss as such.

  7. Wow, this is deeply disturbing. What I’d like to put to the Catholic priest is this: If a male teacher at that school was found to have a wife who was having fertility treatments, would he also be fired? After all, conceiving a child takes a contribution from both male and female… I’d guess he *wouldn’t* be fired. Second, the Catholic church’s own teachings are that *all* humans are sinners. Therefore, following that logic (and granting that her fertility treatments were a sin, which I don’t buy and for which I think the Catholic church would find a hard time making a convincing argument, even within their own laws), ALL the teachers from the school should be fired. After all, if teachers must be sin-free, that eliminates all humans. Finally, why did he tell her she should have kept quiet about the treatments? Is behavior somehow less sinful if kept quiet? That’s certainly not true according to church teachings!

    And of course you’re right: it’s preposterous that the teacher was fired for getting medical treatment for a medical condition. Just outrageous.

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