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ACLU in support of ex-teacher

Joins 2nd group in bias suit vs. diocese


Two national organizations are weighing in on the side of fired Catholic school teacher Emily Herx in her discrimination lawsuit against the local diocese.

Filed Monday in U.S. District Court by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the American Civil Liberties Union, the “friends of the court” briefs ask a district judge to rule in Herx’s favor in deciding the disability discrimination lawsuit filed this year against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Herx sued the diocese in April, claiming she was discriminated against for a disability when her teaching contract was not renewed. Herx, who suffers from infertility, a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, underwent in vitro fertilization. She argues her termination was a violation of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission found in Herx’s favor in a January ruling.

In vitro fertilization treatment is banned under Roman Catholic doctrine, and when news of Herx’s treatment came to light, diocesan officials decided not to renew her contract. She had been a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School.

On Monday, Herx’s attorneys also filed their response to the diocesan request that the case be decided on written arguments only, rather than proceed to a trial. In July, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey granted their request, which put off requiring both sides to provide what could be mountains of documents and other evidence to each other in the process called “discovery.”

Diocesan attorneys want the court to dismiss Herx’s complaint because the diocese is a religious employer that acted in a manner consistent with its belief.

And should the courts allow the case to proceed, it could lead to “government entanglement” in matters of Catholic Church doctrine, teaching and governance, according to court documents.

A letter written by Bishop Kevin Rhoades last summer called the procedure an “intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it,” according to court documents.

In documents filed Monday, Herx’s attorneys reiterate that this is not a case of religious discrimination, that Herx was not fired because of her religious views.

Rather, they argue, it is a case of disability discrimination solely, and while the Americans with Disabilities Act has some exemptions for religious employers, those exemptions do not apply in this case.

“Defendants … in fact have admitted that (Herx’s) contract was not renewed due to her undergoing IVF treatments,” Herx’s attorneys wrote in their motion.

The ACLU argues, in support of Herx, that the diocese’s behavior is illegal.

“Neither the statutes nor the Constitution give religiously affiliated employers a blanket right to discriminate against lay employees on the basis of sex or disability, even if motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs,” wrote New York-based ACLU attorney Jennifer K. Lee.