A pregnant teacher is suing her former employer – a Catholic school system in Montana that she says illegally canned her over an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The 12-page lawsuit alleges that the school broke federal and state laws when they sacked her, and now the teacher, who gave birth to her baby boy in March, is taking her gripe to the courts.
Writes The Associated press, via ABC News: “Shaela Evenson filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Butte on Thursday, alleging her firing violated federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy. She is seeking back pay, benefits, and compensatory and punitive damages.”
The lawsuit, read here in its entirety, says that the Butte Central Catholic Schools hired Evenson in 2005, and that she had been teaching literature and physical education to students in the sixth through eighth grades.
The lawsuit says the Evenson is not Catholic – something her former employers said they were not aware of – and that she became pregnant through artificial insemination last summer. After first receiving congratulations from the principal, Evenson’s suit alleges the school fired her when they received an anonymous letter informing the district that she was unmarried and a lesbian.
Evenson says that at a meeting in January, Diocese Superintendent Patrick Haggerty encouraged her to simply resign. She refused, and four days later she received an email from Haggerty, which according to Evenson, read:
"Having a child out of wedlock is considered at variance with or contrary to polices of the school and the diocese and the moral and religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Under terms of your contract these are sufficient grounds and just grounds for your immediate discharge."
The Montana Standard says “Evenson gave birth to a boy on March 7, the first child for Evenson and her partner, Marilyn Tobin.”
Writes the Standard:
The suit noted that the district does not investigate male employees and non-pregnant female employees for compliance with Catholic Church teachings, and its only means to determine compliance is “observation of pregnancy in unmarried women.”
Evenson’s attorney, Brian Butler, said that an employer, even a religious one, cannot mandate that an employee “sign a contract giving up certain civil rights, which includes the right of a woman to bear children.”
“They told her she was fired for being pregnant and unmarried,” Butler said. “Nobody was hiding anything. (Shaela) never denied the fact that she’s in a relationship with Marilyn.”
Earlier this year, a 20,000 signature petition was delivered to the diocese, calling on the district to reinstate Evenson to her post. Margaret Rankin, a longtime member of the Helena Diocese, delivered the petition but said at the time she didn’t expect it to sway their minds. She was right.
“The only way that change could be made is if [Pope] Francis himself came and asked for that change to be made, and I doubt that would happen,” Rankin said.
What do you think about Evenson’s firing? Should employers have so-called morality clauses in their contracts? Sound off below.