By Mie Lewis, Staff Attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project
This week, an Ohio federal jury awarded Christa Dias $171,000 after she was fired from her part-time teaching jobs at two religious schools. Dias had alleged that she was fired for becoming pregnant while unmarried. In response, the schools and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had claimed that her use of artificial insemination violated Catholic religious tenets and was a valid reason for firing her. In its verdict, the jury specifically found that Dias was the victim of pregnancy discrimination.
The verdict is an important victory for both workers’ rights and the rights of parents and families. It affirms that the law protects workers’ freedom to make decisions about their reproductive lives without suffering condemnation and retaliation from their bosses. It also implicitly recognizes that – especially in today’s era of assisted reproduction – families come in diverse forms, all of which deserve respect and protection.
Christa Dias’s court victory reaffirms the longstanding principle that religious freedom does not give anyone or any entity a free pass to discriminate. Recently, some religiously-affiliated organizations and secular for-profit businesses that hire from and serve the public have tried to justify discrimination by invoking religious freedom. While this country ardently protects the absolute right to believe what you want, the right to act upon those beliefs is not unlimited. It does not permit employers, businesses, or individuals to interfere with the rights of, and harm, others – including pregnant women, women seeking access to contraception or LGBT individuals.
The ACLU’s Campaign to End the Use of Religion to Discriminate responds to this troubling trend. In a recent case similar to Dias’s, we filed a charge of discrimination on behalf of a single mother fired for becoming pregnant while unmarried Christa Dias successfully enforced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that bars many forms of discrimination, including that based on sex and pregnancy. Virtually every organization and business readily abides by this and other laws, regardless of the organization’s or the business owners’ faith. Today’s verdict should be a wake-up call to those who do not yet follow suit.