US jury sides with sacked IVF teacher
A Ft Wayne jury has awarded a former Catholic school teacher $1.9 million after she was fired for the ‘grave sin’ undergoing in vitro fertilization.
Emily Herx, above, a language arts teacher at St Vincent de Paul Catholic School, was notified by the Ft Wayne Diocese that her contract for the 2011-12 school year would not be renewed because of her use of the method.
In vitro fertilization – or IVF – is a procedure that involves combining egg and sperm in a laboratory dish before transferring the resulting embryo into the womb.
According to Herx and her attorney, the loss of her job violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and pregnancy-related medical conditions.
The diocese stated Herx violated the terms of her contract containing a morals clause promising to uphold Catholic teachings. During the trial, attorneys for the diocese argued that, according to Church teachings, in vitro is gravely evil, an intrinsic evil, and under no circumstance can it be justified.
Herx had previously informed the principal at St Vincent de Paul that she had undergone the procedure in the past. But when she notified school administrators of her third in vitro fertilization cycle in February 2011, it came to the attention of parish priest Rev John Kuzmich who demanded she be terminated, calling her:
A grave immoral sinner.
During the trial, priests and the local bishop testified that they wanted Herx to show remorse or regret for making the decision she made, but she refused to do so.
The jury decided in Herx’s favor, deliberating only five-and-a-half hours before awarding her $1.75 million for emotional and physical damages, $125,000 for medical expenses, $75,000 for lost wages – but just $1.00 in punitive damages.
Herx’s previous salary at the school was approximately $28,000 per year.
A tearful Herx addressed the media on the courthouse steps saying:
I was so happy. It was unreal.
The diocese intends to appeal the jury’s verdict to the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeal, with attorney John Theisen stating the case remains an issue of religious freedom, and that exemptions in civil rights laws for religious employers should have protected the diocese from the unfavourable verdict. He said:
It never should have brought the case to trial.
The four-day jury trial before US District Judge Robert Miller Jr took place in the expansive federal courthouse just a few blocks from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the center of the diocese, according to this report, which added that:
Throughout the trial, Herz heard herself characterized by the defense as a potential drug abuser, an emotional basket case and as someone who committed a sin so grave and immoral that no circumstances could justify it.
For Herx, her decision to continue the IVF treatment abhorred by the church was her last and safest chance to become pregnant with another child.
For the diocese, the matter had nothing to do with her attempt to become pregnant but with her choice of method. As part of her contract, Herx had signed a morals clause, promising to uphold Catholic teaching. When she did not do so, diocesan officials had no choice but to remove her from their teaching roster.
Repeatedly, the priests and bishop spoke on the stand of having wanted to see her show remorse or regret for making the decision she made.
Herx never did.
Under cross-examination, Bishop Kevin C Rhoades, above, testified that the diocese had net assets of about $30-million but said a victory for Herx in the lawsuit could affect parts of its operation.