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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 12:33 pm

Judge rejects diocese move on Herx verdict

Rebecca S. Green The Journal Gazette

The local Roman Catholic diocese heard another "no" Monday afternoon from a federal judge in a sexual discrimination case.

Late Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Miller denied the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s request he set aside a December jury verdict awarding a former Catholic language arts teacher money after finding the diocese had discriminated against her.

The jury awarded Emily Herx $1.9 million, finding that the diocese violated her civil rights when it elected not to renew her contract after she underwent in vitro fertilization.

The diocese contends that it was protected from Herx’s complaints of gender discrimination because it is a religious institution, and when it fired her for undergoing in vitro fertilization, it was because she violated church teaching, not because she tried to get pregnant.

In vitro fertilization is prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church as an intrinsic evil that no circumstances can justify.

The jury sided with Herx and awarded her $1.9 million, although a judge later reduced that to its current amount of more than $540,000. 

Diocesan attorneys filed a motion in January, asking Miller, again as they had during the course of the trial and before the appellate court as the case progressed, to rule in their favor.

They argued Herx not only failed to present sufficient evidence to prove gender discrimination, but also that the decision not to renew her contract was made on religious grounds and not for a jury to decide.

"It was for the Church to decide whether Herx’s contract should be non-renewed for failing to comply with Church teachings, not a court or jury," diocesan attorneys argued. 

But in his order on Monday, Miller wrote the evidence presented could support a verdict for either side, but that the jury in this case looked at the evidence and drew "permissible inferences" that a male teacher would have been treated differently from Herx.

"The evidence supports the verdict," he wrote. "The same evidence supports an inference that (Herx) wouldn’t have been discharged had she not been trying to become pregnant."