Catholic School Cannot Discriminate Against Unwed Pregnant Teacher, EEOC Rules

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October 11, 2006 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today celebrated a victory in its case on behalf of teacher Michelle McCusker, who was fired by a private Catholic school after she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant and unmarried.

The decision came in the form of a ruling from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces federal civil rights laws. The EEOC issued notice yesterday that it had found that the school, St. Rose of Lima in Rockaway Beach, was engaging in unlawful pregnancy discrimination by firing McCusker.

"This experience was devastating, and I'm very happy that the EEOC has provided us with an opportunity to resolve it," McCusker said. "This was my first teaching job, and it is gratifiying that the EEOC agrees it was discrimination to fire me."

St. Rose of Lima had hired McCusker to teach pre-kindergarten, but a month after school began, McCusker informed the school's principal that she was pregnant and planned to have the child. Two days later, the principal told McCusker that she was being terminated because she violated the school's religious principles by becoming pregnant while unmarried.

The NYCLU filed its complaint with the EEOC on McCusker's behalf last November. The complaint alleged that the school had engaged in sex discrimination and pregnancy discrimination.

"St. Rose of Lima fired our client because she had ostensibly engaged in non-marital sex, but it does not enforce this policy against male employees," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. "Applying different policies to men and women is a double standard and constitutes sex discrimination and, in this case, pregnancy discrimination."

McCusker's termination directly followed a positive performance review in which her supervisors had praised her superior teaching ability and her "high degree of professionalism."

"The NYCLU's Reproductive Rights Project believes that all women have the right to choose to bring their pregnancies to term without losing their jobs because of that decision," said Elisabeth Benjamin, NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project Director.

The EEOC's notice invites both parties to participate in settlement discussions.