Teacher fired for pregnancy sues Butte Catholic schools

2014-08-21T20:54:00Z 2014-08-23T09:39:51Z Teacher fired for pregnancy sues Butte Catholic schoolsBy Montana Standard staff Montana Standard
August 21, 2014 8:54 pm  • 

A former teacher fired for being pregnant filed a lawsuit in Butte federal court Thursday against Butte Central Catholic Schools.

In the 12-page document, Shaela Evenson contends the district breached its contract with her and discriminated against her because she was pregnant and because she is female. The suit contends the district broke both federal and state laws.

As a result of the firing, she has incurred damages including lost wages, benefits and emotional distress. She is asking for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages — and a jury trial.

Evenson taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education at the Catholic school for nine years. She was dismissed Jan. 10 after the Helena Diocese received an anonymous letter about her pregnancy.

The district has said it fired Evenson for violating the terms of her contract, which required her to practice the tenets of the Catholic faith inside and outside the classroom.

Evenson gave birth to a boy on March 7, the first child for Evenson and her partner, Marilyn Tobin, both of Butte.

In the summer of 2013, Evenson, who is not married, became pregnant through artificial insemination, court documents show. The lawsuit says the then superintendent of schools for the diocese, Patrick Haggarty, called Evenson into a meeting on Jan. 9, 2014. He told her that he and the Bishop of Helena had received an anonymous letter stating she was pregnant and not married — a violation of her contract. He suggested she resign; Evenson refused.

On Sunday, Jan. 12, Haggarty sent a letter to Evenson, by email, saying she was immediately terminated for having a child out of wedlock. The letter, in part, said that she violated school and diocese policies, and moral and religious teachings of the Catholic Church.

Evenson contends she was fired because of her sex and pregnancy.

The suit noted that the district does not investigate male employees and non-pregnant female employees for compliance with Catholic Church teachings, and its only means to determine compliance is “observation of pregnancy in unmarried women.’’

Evenson also performed all obligations under her contract, and firing her without good cause is a breach of that contract, the suit says.

Evenson, through her lawyer, earlier this year filed a discrimination charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which will investigate the firing. Her lawyer, Brian Butler, told The Montana Standard last spring that Evenson is protected from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy by title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The attorney won a similar case against an archdiocese in Ohio last year when he represented a woman who had become pregnant while unwed while working at a Catholic school. She was awarded $170,000 after the jury found the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati had discriminated against her by firing her once she became pregnant by artificial insemination while unmarried.

In that case, the jury was instructed that even if an employee signed an employment contract containing a morality clause, that does not exempt that person’s employment from the protections of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The jury was told that an employee cannot waive his rights to be free from unlawful discrimination.

Butler said that case made clear that an employer, even if it is a religious institution, cannot require an employee to sign a contract giving up certain civil rights, which includes the right of a woman to bear children.

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(29) Comments

  1. Garry
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    Garry - August 27, 2014 2:24 pm
    Well....then those black robes had best go back and re-evaluate their thinking about miracles. Like it or not, that child is a creation of the almighty. Intended or not.....still a child of the almighty.
    But I am biased I guess....because my knuckles still bear the open wound scars, from having my fingers whacked, by a nun. Just for being between two other students, who were doing the passing.
    Then of...there was the pure terror of going to the boys john, when certain so called priests were around. Pure terror.
    No sympathy from me, for Central...non what-so-ever!!!!
  2. TSNJ
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    TSNJ - August 23, 2014 9:52 am
    Has anyone that knows her thought about the fact that if gay marriage was legal in montana, she would be married, and all this would be irrelevant?
  3. Lucas Beauchamp
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    Lucas Beauchamp - August 23, 2014 8:12 am
    Wow, what a neat and tidy explanation Vince. How long did it take you to come up with that one. Come on Vince, let's get real here. Your not a contract lawyer and neither am I. The courts will decide irrespective of us. You have made your OPINION known, thinly veiled behind a little third rate legalese. Please resist the weak attempt to impose your will on this issue. It won't work anyway.
  4. Subtlety
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    Subtlety - August 23, 2014 7:43 am
    Your assertion that the courts have "already said employers (even religious organizations) can't force employees to give up their civil rights." seems directly at odds with Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC where the Supreme Court ruling recognized a minis­terial exception to employment discrimination laws.
  5. vince
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    vince - August 23, 2014 7:33 am
    Catholic Church has standards, part of church doctrine and consistent with public policy. Standards are recited in and part of the employment contract. Prospective employee reads, understands and signs the contract. Employee violates contract. Employee fired. Actions, you see, have consequences. End of story.
  6. homebody
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    homebody - August 23, 2014 6:57 am
    What is dumb ice8skater is the contract she signed, then chose to break, then sue. Its all dumb!
  7. Joseph HR
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    Joseph HR - August 23, 2014 1:13 am
    The contract violates title 7 of the Civil Rights Act by tying her employment to her pregnancy AND the Civil Service Reform Act by doing the same with her marital status. Contracts which violate the law are not binding and can not be enforced. As a ridiculous example, you couldn't be fired for not murdering someone even if it was in your contract.

    All US citizens are entitled to civil rights, and the courts have already said employers (even religious organizations) can't force employees to give up their civil rights.

    As for the whole "freedom of religion" thing, this is a matter of employment practices and not restriction of religion. The Catholic church is free to hold their views and practice them, but they can not deny those employed by them their civil rights. If they could, all big business would pick up a bible and pay their workers $0.32 an hour.
  8. bob
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    bob - August 22, 2014 11:15 pm
    She agreed to thump their bible when she signed the contract. I don't agree with it, but a contract is a contract..
  9. Subtlety
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    Subtlety - August 22, 2014 6:42 pm
    If the teacher in question, as a functioning and responsible adult, entered into a contract with the church of her own free will promising to abide by an agreed upon code of conduct, how then is the church forcing their way on the teacher in question, let alone all of us?
  10. Drifter
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    Drifter - August 22, 2014 3:52 pm
    Good for her and I hope she wins! The notion that an employer can dictate to employees in this kind of very personal matter, is very dangerous.
  11. constitutionalist
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    constitutionalist - August 22, 2014 3:33 pm
    Who said she couldn't have a child?

  12. crazedwalker
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    crazedwalker - August 22, 2014 3:01 pm
    Posing naked on Facebook isn't covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    So, a woman has a duty to obtain permission from her employer prior to pregnancy? I did not know that....
  13. crazedwalker
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    crazedwalker - August 22, 2014 2:59 pm
    Posing naked on Facebook isn't covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    So, a woman has a duty to obtain permission from her employer prior to pregnancy? I did not know that....
  14. pearljam
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    pearljam - August 22, 2014 2:41 pm
    Ok folks, here we go. To be clear, Shaela was either pregnant when she signed the employment contract or shortly thereafter or had been intending to be pregnant around that same time. She knowingly and willfully deceived her employer. The contract (as archaic as some of you may think the catholic church is) stated that they cannot be an unwed mother and be a teacher at the school. Is that an argument for the catholic church -- sure. However, the school currently has to abide by it. All the bullshit about the pope and catholics forcing their ways upon all of us.. to those I say.. she knowingly and willfully deceived her employer. She's a great person, a good teacher and in same partner relationship which had NOTHING to do with any of it.. Its just that she was unwed and pregnant. Maybe folks can fight the catholic church on this but for RIGHT NOW and when she signed the contract, that was the rule. It would be like any rule, you cant pose naked on facebook and still be expected to be able to teach, and for this school and all the catholic schools, you cant be unwed and pregnant and teach... Someone either a co-worker, parent family, whatever, didn't like it and reported it to the diocese. Should the principal have done something right then when she was made aware? Probably. For someone who didn't want to bring attention to this issue, Shaela sure has.. She knowingly and willfully deceived her employer. She was stubborn, wouldn't resign and was let go. Move on, go live your life and raise your child with your partner.
  15. seamus o'shea
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    seamus o'shea - August 22, 2014 2:23 pm
    Odd, you new business sounds a lot like most corporate jobs. I'm sure you'll do great!
  16. seamus o'shea
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    seamus o'shea - August 22, 2014 2:21 pm
    We're all dumber after reading this comment
  17. Kelly D
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    Kelly D - August 22, 2014 2:11 pm
    Evenson is in the wrong. She knew, when she accepted this job, that she would be working for a Catholic institution and she signed a contract agreeing to follow the tenets of Church teaching to the best of her abilities. If she wasn't prepared to follow those teachings, then she should never have accepted the position. Evenson blatantly, willfully, and publically violated her agreement when she chose to become pregnant through artificial insemination. It wasn't as though she was discreetly and privately rejecting Church teachings behind closed doors, so the school could have continued to look the other way (as they had been doing for the last 9 years of her employment, even though she was in an unmarried, homosexual relationship). By openly flaunting her violation, she forced the school to act against her. She should not expect them to be punished for following the rules she agreed to.
  18. crazedwalker
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    crazedwalker - August 22, 2014 12:33 pm
    Hey everyone! I just founded a new church and am going to open a business. By the way, my religion doesn't believe in overtime pay, worker's comp, or any other worker right because, in my religion, they're slaves whose only duty is to OBEY. You can't discriminate against me because of my religion. So there!
  19. icesk8er
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    icesk8er - August 22, 2014 12:02 pm
    yet, its ok for the church to force their ways on us?? Get a grip dude did you even read what you wrote??
  20. icesk8er
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    icesk8er - August 22, 2014 12:00 pm
    responsibility for her actions??? how much more responsible could you be?? seriously?? I think she is a very smart woman, who planned her pregnancy thoroughly. What a dumb comment!
  21. icesk8er
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    icesk8er - August 22, 2014 11:58 am
    you go Shaela!! I hope you get all you can out of those Catholic's!!
  22. hpesoj
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    hpesoj - August 22, 2014 10:51 am
    Your hypocrisy from post to post is absolutely astonishing. You blather on about your "right" to carry a gun wherever you want, yet decry a person standing up for her "right" to have a child. The courts have been fairly clear that an employer, even a religious entity, cannot require it's employees to give up their civil rights. You get to be an American Citizen regardless of where you work, and your employer can't ask you to give up the civil rights every American is entitled too.

    How is violating a person's civil rights protecting our liberties?

    Churches can require celibacy of their ordained cleargy and their professed religious (like Nuns), but they cannot require their employees who are not directly tied to ministry to conform to their beliefs. She was a math teacher, not a theology teacher or a religious education teacher, she had no connection whatsoever to the Church's religious beliefs. So, as the federal courts in Ohio stated, they had no right to force her to comply with the church's teachings.

    You really are paranoid, constitutionalist. Labeling a math teacher trying to raise her family in middle class Butte a "leftist infiltrator" demonstrates a possible mental instability.

    Your sqwacking in one post about guns being a "right" everyone has, and then your stating here that her "right" to have a child doesn't exist demonstrates your extreme level of narcissism, maybe with a twinge of low intelligence.
  23. maxsmom
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    maxsmom - August 22, 2014 10:15 am
    Good luck Shaela Evenson , I would rather have an unwed mother teaching my children over a sexual predator teaching them. I am Catholic, but I find the Catholic people to be so hypocritical anymore. Do as I say not as I do. I wish nothing but the best for this lady and her baby.
  24. Drifter
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    Drifter - August 22, 2014 9:47 am
    Good for her! I hope she wins it, and wins big!
  25. B Seidita
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    B Seidita - August 22, 2014 8:04 am
    I hope a jury of her peers, even if they think the church over stepped their bounds, has enough sense to just give her back wages and no other damages. She was culpable by her choices in this action. And "OH YES" she should pay her own legal costs out of the wage settlement.The Attorney sees big dollars, he should also be disappointed.
  26. homebody
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    homebody - August 22, 2014 6:57 am
    She should of taken responsibility for her actions, contacted her employer, and tried to salvage her job. She handled it wrong.
  27. Silverhio
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    Silverhio - August 22, 2014 6:07 am
    We thought Evenson gave her all during her time as a Butte Central teacher and her desire for life through parenthood shouldn't have been denied based on orientation. Our Catholic faith is tested by this case which pits life and partnership against rules that rely on discrimination.
  28. JerryC
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    JerryC - August 22, 2014 5:57 am
    I'll bet God would not have fired her. The so called church was worried about how it would look, having that woman pregnant in front of those kids. Oh, the shame. They try to legislate morality......... I hope they settle out of court ;)
  29. buttetonian
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    buttetonian - August 22, 2014 2:22 am
    Yet another conundrum for the Catholic Church locally. Seems rather heavy-handed. Especially how the Church supports right -to-life so vigorously. They certainly aren't advocating for tolerance and forgiveness are they? Maybe they should take the stance of their leader, Pope Francis (who am I judge). The Church really drops the ball on this one.

    Could have been handled this much better.

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