US court rules against woman fired by Catholic school over pregnancy

The art teacher was engaged at the time her pregnancy was announced, leading to the school firing her.

 Pregnant woman suffers from depression (Illustrative) (photo credit: Israel Midwives Organization)
Pregnant woman suffers from depression (Illustrative)
(photo credit: Israel Midwives Organization)

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against a woman suing a Catholic elementary school responsible for firing her for falling pregnant while unmarried, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Victoria Crisitello, who was employed as an art teacher at St. Theresa’s in  New Jersey, was fired in 2014 after the school claimed she breached their code of ethics by engaging in premarital sex.

Cristello attempted to sue the school under the state’s Law Against Discrimination, a law that prevents employers from discriminating based on pregnancy or marital status. 

The case took years to reach the state Supreme Court, which finally reached a conclusion this week.

Ultimately, the court decided that firing Cristello fell under a protective religious exemption to the law. As a Catholic school, the school was allowed to instil discriminatory policies that matched their ideologies.

 Illustrative image of a pregnant belly.  (credit: PIXABAY)
Illustrative image of a pregnant belly. (credit: PIXABAY)

The lasting impact the case is expected to have

Peter Verniero, the lawyer representing the school, applauded the court's decision, saying that it “upheld the rights of religious employers to act consistent with their religious tenets.”

Cristello’s lawyer Thomas McKinney expressed disappointment at the court’s decision, adding that the ramifications of the ruling would come to impact “all different types of religious entities that employ people,” including hospitals.

“If a woman is pregnant and unmarried and working at a Catholic hospital, she can be terminated,” he said. “Our biggest issue always with this case was that you have a policy that’s only being implemented against unmarried pregnant women.”

“We’re in a period where religious organizations are trying to push the boundaries of what it means for them to be exempt from laws that apply to all the rest of us,” Katherine Franke, a Columbia Law School professor who specializes in religious liberty law and nondiscrimination law, said to the Times.

Adding that some employers that are “not traditionally understood as religious entities” might view the decision as a “green light” to discriminate against LGBTQ employees and those in interfaith marriages as well as those are who are pregnant out of wedlock.

Cristello had begun working at the school part-time in 2011, after having attended it as a student. As part of her employment contract, she signed an agreement saying that she would abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

Cristello was engaged at the time the school terminated her employment and wore an engagement ring.