A federal jury awarded a former teacher nearly $2 million Friday after finding that a northern Indiana Roman Catholic diocese discriminated against her by firing her after church officials learned she was trying to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization.
The group of five women and seven men announced its decision in favor of Emily Herx late Friday afternoon after beginning deliberations about 10:30 a.m., finding she was the victim of discrimination when the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend declined to renew her contract at St. Vincent de Paul School in 2011. Her attorneys argued that male teachers accused of violating the moral teachings of the church had been allowed to keep their jobs.
Herx’s complaint charged the diocese violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disability Act when it terminated her employment. The diocese asserted it was exempt to liability under Title VII. It pointed to religious exemptions in the measure as giving protection to religious institutions making employment decisions based on the religious and secular activities of their employees.
The federal court granted the diocese’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the ADA claim, but not the Title VII claim. The diocese asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene before the trial and dismiss the complaint on religious freedom grounds, but the 7th Circuit declined earlier this month.
The jury awarded Herx $1.75 million for emotional and physical damages, $125,000 for medical expenses, $75,000 for lost wages and $1 in punitive damages, WANE-TV reported.
The diocese contended Herx violated the terms of her contract and it plans to file an appeal of the decision, according to the station. The diocese argued that, according to church teachings, in vitro fertilization is gravely evil, no circumstance can justify it, and those beliefs apply to men and women who participate in the procedure.
IVF involves mixing egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and transferring a resulting embryo into the womb.
Herx, who is from Hoagland, about 15 miles northeast of Fort Wayne, testified during the trial before U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. that a fertility doctor told her IVF was her most likely way to have a second child.
The treatments began in early 2010, and Herx said she kept her principal informed at the woman's request.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades testified Thursday he didn't know that Sandra Guffey, Herx's principal and a fellow Catholic, had known for more than a year that Herx was undergoing the infertility treatment and he was unaware of emails between Guffey and Herx about the treatment, The Journal Gazette reported.
Herx's attorney, Kathleen Delaney, asked Rhoades if, after seeing the emails, he could see that Herx might have felt she had the support of her bosses to undergo the treatment.
Rhoades said yes, but also said he's not sure whether it would have changed the decision to terminate her contract.
The suit is Emily Herx v. Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Inc. and St. Vincent de Paul School, 1:12-CV-122.