INDIANAPOLIS – Emily and Brian Herx – the Hoagland couple launched into a national religious debate this week – said Friday they just wanted to expand their family when she underwent in vitro fertilization and ultimately lost her Catholic teaching job.
“We were elated to have our first son,” said Emily, who experienced infertility after their 7-year-old was born in 2004. “We adore being parents. That was our main priority, to be parents and to raise good children, and now we want to set a good example for our child by standing up for what is right.”
Emily Herx sued St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School and the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese in federal court this week after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the diocese violated her civil rights.
Her case has received national and international attention, and she met with reporters in Indianapolis Friday at her attorney’s office.
The calm, soft-spoken woman’s face lit up when talking about her family and husband, but became stoic when recalling the events leading up to losing her teaching position in April 2011.
“It was my career. I was so passionate about it and we were just blindsided,” Emily Herx said. “I was devastated and sickened that they were taking my job.”
Emily Herx, who suffers from a diagnosed medical condition that causes infertility, began treatments in November2008 that included in vitro fertilization. She informed her principal that she and her husband were considering fertility treatment, and then in 2010 signed a contract to teach language arts from August 2010 to June 2011.
In March 2010, Herx told the principal she would need to schedule sick days to undergo the fertility treatments, the lawsuit said.
More than a year later, Herx asked for more time off for the second round of treatment and was then asked to meet with the Rev. John Kuzmich, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
In that meeting, Kuzmich told her in vitro fertilization treatments may be against church teachings, and that he had already fielded a complaint about the treatment from another teacher, according to the lawsuit.
A week later, she received notice her contract would not be renewed.
Kuzmich told Herx the decision to fire her had nothing to do with her abilities as a teacher but rather she was being fired by the diocese for violating the teachings of the Catholic Church, according to court documents.
A request for an appeal before Bishop Kevin Rhoades was denied. Rhoades said that “in vitro fertilization…is an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it,” the lawsuit read.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has denied any discrimination occurred, contending – as a religious employer – the Diocese is entitled to make religious-based decisions consistent with church doctrine.
“The Diocese has clear policies requiring that teachers in its schools must, as a condition of employment, have a knowledge of and respect for the Catholic faith, and abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church as those tenets apply to that person,” a statement said. “The Diocese requires that its teachers serve as moral exemplars. Those requirements, and others, are expressly incorporated into Diocesan teacher contracts.”
A message seeking further comment Friday was not returned.
Kathleen DeLaney, attorney for the Herx family, said the U.S. Supreme Court early this year ruled against a Lutheran school teacher who claimed she was the victim of workplace discrimination, giving the religious school a “ministerial exception” to discrimination laws.
But, as DeLaney noted, the teacher was ordained as a minister and taught religious classes and performed “important religious functions.” Emily Herx, on the other hand, taught English.
“This is a cutting-edge legal issue and we look forward to using the court system to further define the rights of employees who work in religious institutions,” she said.
DeLaney would not let Emily Herx answer several questions Friday, such as the status of her pregnancy attempts; whether she is Catholic; and what the ultimate goal of the lawsuit is.
Emily Herx said she has gone into survival mode to get through the situation, but noted the outpouring of support since the case became public this week has helped her stay strong. And she praised her husband and family as an amazing support system.
After being unemployed for several months, Emily Herx has found a part-time job, but didn’t want to name her employer.
She talked openly about the pain of not being able to naturally conceive another child after her son was born.
“I cannot even explain how difficult and traumatic it is as a woman, when all you want is a child, and you think that’s what you’re supposed to do, and that’s what you want to do, and to not be able to do that,” she said. “Unless you go through it, I don’t think you can understand how hard it is.”