A former Indiana Catholic school teacher who was fired after she sought in vitro fertilization (IVF) has won a $1.9 million judgment.
A jury ruled that the Roman Catholic diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend had discriminated against Emily Herx, who until 2012 worked as an English teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School.
Herx was terminated just two weeks after she requested time off for an IVF procedure. In response, Herx decided to sue both the school and the diocese, claiming gender discrimination. Herx’s attorneys provided evidence that the school had never fired a male teacher for using infertility treatment.
In a surprising move, the diocese responded with a novel argument: Its attorneys asserted that even being forced to defend itself in court would be a violation of the church’s “religious freedom.”
“[If] the diocese is required to go through a trial,” it would “irrevocably” deny the diocese’s religious protections, the church’s attorneys argued.
The judge declined to buy into that rather sweeping claim, and the case proceeded. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported that during the four-day trial, which concluded in December, the diocese worked hard to discredit Herx. Church attorneys portrayed her as a possible drug addict who is emotionally unstable, and priests who testified expressed contempt for Herx’s lack of remorse over her choice to undergo IVF.
But none of that swayed the jury, which found in Herx’s favor in the case of Herx v. Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend after more than five hours of deliberation.
“It’s been a very long and difficult fight,” Herx’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney said. “I hope this can make some changes for women in the work place.”
The church, however, plans to appeal the case to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The diocese maintains that the case is a matter of “religious freedom” and one of its lawyers expressed anger that his client had to defend itself in court to begin with.
“It never should have brought the case to trial,” John Theisen, a diocesan attorney, said as he left the courthouse.