Judge cuts damages for teacher fired for in vitro treatment

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A federal judge has cut by more than two-thirds the damages awarded to an Indiana teacher who was fired by a Roman Catholic diocese for trying to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization.

Monday's decision by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. dropped Emily Herx's $1.9 million judgment in her civil rights lawsuit to just under $544,000.

A federal jury in Fort Wayne found last month that diocese officials discriminated against Herx, who had taught at a diocese school, when they declined to renew her contract in 2011 because she had undergone IVF in hopes of having a second child.

The diocese said the church teaches that IVF is gravely evil and never justifiable. In vitro fertilization involves mixing eggs and sperm in a laboratory dish and transferring the resulting embryo into the womb.

Herx's attorneys argued that male teachers were not fired after they were accused of violating the church's moral teachings when they were ejected from a strip club for groping an employee.

After a four-day trial in December, a jury awarded her $1.75 million for compensatory damages for pain and suffering, $125,000 for medical care, $75,000 for lost wages and benefits, and $1 for punitive damages, The Journal Gazette reported.

Diocese attorneys argued after the trial that the award should be capped at $300,000 and that medical care compensation should be held at roughly $35,000, according to court documents.

Herx's attorneys agreed that the compensatory damages for pain and mental suffering should not top $300,000 under the law, but argued that the $125,000 for medical care was not subject to the limits of the cap.

In Monday's ruling, Miller Jr. agreed with both sides. He reduced the compensatory damage award to $299,999 and left the punitive damage award at $1, to bring that total to $300,000.

Miller also increased the award for lost wages and benefits to $118,803, and included $22,853 in post-termination out-of-pocket health care costs, court documents indicate.

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