Catholic school teacher fired after artificial insemination pregnancy takes stand

This is a Dec. 2011 photo of Christa Dias holding her 11-month-old daughter in her Withamsville, Ohio home. Age 30 and single, Dias wanted a baby and decided on artificial insemination. The results: a 14-month-old daughter she adores, a lost job and a federal discrimination lawsuit now moving forward that is being viewed as a barometer of religious organizations' regulation over employees' lives. Gary Landers,AP Photo/File-The Cincinnati Enquirer

CINCINNATI A teacher fired from Catholic schools after becoming pregnant through artificial insemination told jurors Wednesday she didn't know that the procedure violated church doctrine or that she could be fired for it.

Christa Dias sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the schools over her dismissal, contending they fired her simply because she was pregnant and unmarried. Her attorney, Robert Klingler, told a federal jury in opening statements that the firing violated federal law prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Testifying on the second day of trial, Dias choked up at times and wiped tears from her eyes as she described her shock at being fired in 2010.

The archdiocese's attorney, Steve Goodin, previously denied any discrimination and told jurors Dias was fired for violating a contract that required her to abide by Catholic doctrine. The archdiocese has said artificial insemination violates that doctrine and is immoral.

Dias said she is a Christian but not Catholic and was told that didn't matter when she was hired. She said she thought the contract clause requiring compliance with church philosophies meant she should try "to be a Christian woman and follow the Bible."

Her lawsuit alleges church policy is not enforced equally against men and women. A man formerly employed in youth ministry at a suburban Dayton parish within the archdiocese testified in a sworn video deposition Tuesday. He said some church officials were aware that he and his wife used artificial insemination when they were trying to have a child and that he was not fired or disciplined.

The archdiocese has argued Dias was a ministerial employee and the Supreme Court has said religious groups can dismiss those employees, but Klingler insists Dias had no ministerial duties.

Dias' attorney also stressed Tuesday that Dias, who is gay, had always known she wanted to have a child and decided to get pregnant through artificial insemination. Klingler opened the trial by showing jurors a photo of Dias' now 2-year-old daughter.

Dias loved her job teaching computer classes at the schools and believes she is "a good teacher and a good moral person," he said.

While Dias' lawsuit does not claim that she was fired over her sexual orientation, Goodin noted that "the evidence will show that Dias never really intended to abide by the contract." He said she kept the fact that she was gay a secret because she knew the church doesn't approve of homosexual acts.

"That all goes to her credibility," he said.

Goodin also said the lawsuit is "about money, plain and simple" and the evidence will show that Dias is not entitled to any damages.

Dias is seeking unspecified damages to cover lost wages and "for the pain and emotional stress" caused by the firing, Klingler said.

The case, viewed as a barometer on the degree to which religious organizations can regulate employees' lives, is the second lawsuit that's been filed in the last two years against the archdiocese over the firing of an unmarried pregnant teacher.

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