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Teacher ‘sickened’ by firing

Effort to expand family led to fertility dispute with diocese

Herx

– 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 in Fort Wayne.

“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 Friday with reporters in Indianapolis 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,” she said. “I was devastated and sickened that they were taking my job.”

Herx, who suffers from a diagnosed medical condition that causes infertility, began treatments in November 2008 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 that 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 for the 2011-12 school year would not be renewed.

Kuzmich told Herx the decision to fire her had nothing to do with her abilities as a teacher; 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 that as a religious employer, it is entitled to make religious 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.”

Diocesean spokesman Sean McBride declined to talk about specifics in the lawsuit Friday, except to “categorically deny” the allegation that Kuzmich called Herx a “grave, immoral sinner.”

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.” 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 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.

Herx said she has gone into survival mode to get through the situation but said 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, Herx has found a part-time job, but she 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.”

Herx said she is a forthright person and was honest from the beginning about her infertility treatments. She said she wouldn’t be in this situation if the diocese had clearly explained early on about the church’s concerns about in vitro fertilization, saying her principal didn’t even understand the boundaries.

“Had the principal come to Emily and told her, or anyone from the administration, we would have been able to make an educated decision and an informed decision, and that’s the chance we were never given,” Brian Herx said.

nkelly@jg.net

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