"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Or for the want of one of the former, as the case may be:


NEW YORK (Reuters) - An unmarried teacher says she was discriminated against and fired from her job at a Roman Catholic school in New York for being pregnant and has filed a federal complaint.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn said on Tuesday that McCusker's situation was difficult, but the Saint Rose of Lima School had had no choice but to follow the principles contained in its teachers' handbook dictating that "a teacher can not violate the tenets of Catholic morality."

McCusker, 26, was dismissed from the school after telling school administrators she was pregnant and did not plan to marry.

She and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a wrongful dismissal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday asserting the firing was "intentional and unlawful discrimination based on McCusker's sex and pregnant status."

In a statement, McCusker said she did not "understand how a religion that prides itself on being forgiving and on valuing life" could fire her for choosing to have a baby.

In a termination letter to McCusker dated October 11, Theresa Andersen, the school's principal, cited the school handbook's provision on morality, but also praised McCusker's "high degree of professionalism."



© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

26 comments:

connie deady said...

My immediate thought was the irony that she would have kept her job if she had an abortion.

Fits right in with one of our prior discussions that if you are going to oppose abortions, you need to provide support for women carrying the baby.

Interesting employment discrimination case, not sure it's winnable, except maybe on sex discrimination grounds.

JC said...

Legally, she should lose the case: she did violate the school policy, so they had the right to fire her. There's no sex discrimination; it's not the school's fault that pregnancy is a female function. Obviously they would have the fire the guy, if he worked there and she named him or he came forward.

My immediate thought was the irony that she would have kept her job if she had an abortion.
Of course. And any criminal can keep his job (and stay out of jail) if he conceals his crime.
The school was right to praise her professionalism. I hope they give her glowing recommendation letters. But the fact is that actions have consequences. The woman made a choice to have sex; moreover, she continues to stay single.

If she needs "support," she can marry someone or go to a church or other charity that benefits indigent pregnant women. It might have been nice for the school to show "support" for the woman, but on the other hand, their primary responsibility is to their students and (in their view) they would be condoning extra-marital sex if they didn't fire her.

Hunter Baker said...

I think it's a false dilemma. Why can't an employer with a specific mission (like a church) insist that it doesn't want employees to have either:

a. abortions

and

b. unwed pregnancy?

It is certainly within the capability of employees who choose a church setting to meet those requirements.

JC said...

You said it a lot more succinctly than I did :)

Tlaloc said...

I think it's fine for the Catholic School to terminate her employment so long as they aren't the recipients of any federal aid or considered a federal charity. If they are then they must be held to the standards of federal employment practices which of course preclude against firing someone for being pregnant.

As long as the school is consistent about it I have no problem but they have to choose whether they really want to be a private employer or not.

JC said...

I think if it were receiving government funding, it would be a "public school" and not a "Catholic school."

Jay D. Homnick said...

She's not being fired for being pregnant but for having premarital sex. If she was raped, filed a police report and then decided to keep the child, she would not be fired.

Had someone walked in on her having sex in the teacher's lounge or something, she would be fired just the same.

If it was a male teacher caught having sex outside of marriage, he would have been fired as well.

No discrimination here based on gender or physical condition.

Matt Huisman said...

I'm not sure if the school handled the matter properly or not, but it seems like the really big unaswered question here is whether or not the teacher recognized that her actions were against what the institution stands for, and sought forgiveness and mercy from the school. Had she done so (and really meant it), I doubt that she ever would have sued - which leads me to believe that she hasn't. (I wonder what her view of pre-marital sex is now...my guess is that she believes in the doctrine of 'don't be dumb enough to get caught'.)

If she has repented and sought forgiveness, I might still support her firing. But if she was let go, I know that I would feel a burden to help her make a new start.

Matt Huisman said...

BTW, there have been some great headers to the articles around here lately...but this one might be my favorite.

Tlaloc said...

"I think if it were receiving government funding, it would be a "public school" and not a "Catholic school.""

I'm not sure about that. I suspect that there may be various federal funding a "private" school can seek. This segues into a further argument against vouchers since it blurs yet more the distinction between private and public schools which will eventually mean more state control of what had been private institutions.

Kathy Hutchins said...

[old geezer] Things were a lot simpler fifty years ago -- when my mother got pregnant with me she was a bookkeeper at Western Electric. They canned her when she started to show -- and she was married! [/old geezer]

Kathy Hutchins said...

I suspect that there may be various federal funding a "private" school can seek.

I have never heard of a Catholic elementary or secondary high school that accepts any federal money except for school lunch subsidies for the poor, and those attach to the child, not the school (the school usually facilitates the application process, though). Should that open the school to federal intervention, in your view?

Tlaloc said...

"I have never heard of a Catholic elementary or secondary high school that accepts any federal money except for school lunch subsidies for the poor, and those attach to the child, not the school (the school usually facilitates the application process, though). Should that open the school to federal intervention, in your view?"

No probably not. But look here and you may find that Catholic Schools recieving public funds are actually common.

Just a quickly googled example

James Elliott said...

If she has repented and sought forgiveness...

Which beggars the question, did she do anything that requires forgiveness and penance? After all, most Catholic schools don't actually require one to be Catholic to teach. It sounds to me like she entered the act with eyes entirely open and willing to accept all responsibilities thus incurred. Legally, I don't think she has a case. Morally, well, that's a larger and more difficult question, and I'm more apt to come down on her side.

You'll have to forgive me. I've been reading a lot of Eric Hoffer lately, and I'm on a differentiated individual versus will-of-the-masses kick.

James Elliott said...

Tom, I can't believe you deleted a comment that pointed out a straw man just because the straw man supported your position. That's just dishonest.

To wit, I pointed out that this

And any criminal can keep his job (and stay out of jail) if he conceals his crime.

is dishonest and inflammatory and only serves to discredit what is otherwise a worthy position.

Tlaloc said...

"Tom, I can't believe you deleted a comment that pointed out a straw man just because the straw man supported your position."

What's not to believe?

James Elliott said...

What's not to believe?

Good point. Boy, I can see that this thread will be down to 14 comments in no time...

JC said...

"And any criminal can keep his job (and stay out of jail) if he conceals his crime."
is dishonest and inflammatory and only serves to discredit what is otherwise a worthy position.

Since I wrote that, I feel obliged to respond.
I was not calling the woman a criminal, which should be clear if the reader understands the concept of analogy. Indeed, I complimented the woman for coming forward. The statement was meant to indicate that admitting/confessing an embarassing action does not negate the consequences of the action. In fact, the "irony" that Connie observed is not particular to the abortion issue; it applies to any mistake (for example, a crime) that can be concealed.
Now, if you still feel the comment was "dishonest and inflammatory," please explain why.

James Elliott said...

Precisely because I felt you were conflating a woman who has a child out of wedlock with a criminal. Since you have explained yourself, I withdraw the complaint.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It wasn't me; perhaps it was one of my colleagues or you pressed the wrong button.

But there's no crying at The Reform Club, as in baseball. The umpire's decision is final.

connie deady said...

Just out of curiosity, would she have been fired if she had married? Catholic churches marry pregnant women all the time who have violated the tenets of the church.

I'm still not sure she will lose her case, if it becomes a sex discrimination issue. But that's not really what the discussion is about. Actually I do wonder what the point is? Good for the school? Scarlet letter "A" for the woman? Hooray for morality?

Matt Huisman said...

Actually I do wonder what the point is?

Without commenting on how they handled the whole thing, I think the point is that they have parents that spend a lot of money in order to put their kids into a special environment that is designed to transmit a certain value system. It's kind of hard for the school to promote those values if one of their teachers openly defies one of the biggies.

[BTW, someone made the comment last night on one of the cable shows that she was already pregnant when she signed her teaching contract - seriously, what was she thinking would happen?]

connie deady said...

You are probably right Matt. I put my child in Catholic school for the value system (though I didn't agree with all of them). I didn't see the act of firing her as necessarily transmitting values I would support. (though admittedly none of us know the whole story).

Sex outside of marriage is a sin. Catholic churches will sanction a church marriage when the woman is pregnant, despite committing the sin. Having committed the sin, she is still willing to have the baby, so I didn't understand the punitive aspect, given the church's position on abortion. I guess having sex is more sinful than putting a pregnant woman out in the street.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I believe the moral complication is that the teacher is in a position of authority, and leaving her in it would indicate a tacit acceptance.

She would not be drummed out of the Church itself. We are all sinners.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"I think it's fine for the Catholic School to terminate her employment so long as they aren't the recipients of any federal aid or considered a federal charity. If they are then they must be held to the standards of federal employment practices which of course preclude against firing someone for being pregnant."

What a strange world we live in. The state extracts money from Catholic parents to pay for a federal government that will forbid them from receiving these tax dollars to educate their children consistent with their Catholic tradition. Apparently, Catholic money is good for the government as long as it is not being spent by Catholics on Catholic things. Madison is spinning in his grave.

It's not clear in what universe this would be considered fair or just.

"As long as the school is consistent about it I have no problem but they have to choose whether they really want to be a private employer or not."

Yet, in California the Supreme Court forced Catholic Charities to supply its employees with contraceptives, even though the health plan is entirely private.

Tlaloc, the welfare state is a jealous God; it will not tolerate putting any Gods before it, even the true and living One.

Matt Huisman said...

I guess having sex is more sinful than putting a pregnant woman out in the street.

I suppose one could counter by saying that she thought sex was more important than that job. Or that she was somehow above their rules.

I'm not all that fond of having her lose her job if she sincerely repented, but I think that sincerity would understand the difficult position she put the school in and would accept whatever decision they made about her future employment. Aside from all of the value issues, the school runs into all kinds of labor policy consistency issues the next time something like this happens. Legally, you run into a boatload of problems if you try to terminate employment when you selectively enforce your policies.

In other words, making an exception most likely means that the policy will have to be discarded. Apparently the school board decided that the long-term damage to Ms. McCusker's future earnings by her dismissal was less than the damage to the school's moral order would be if she were kept.