(The Hill) – The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of a Roman Catholic school in a case involving employment discrimination allegations from an unmarried employee who was terminated after she became pregnant.
Victoria Crisitello filed a complaint against the St. Theresa School alleging discrimination based on pregnancy and marital status. The school claimed, however, that the termination was because Crisitello, in having premarital sex, violated the terms of her employment agreement, which stipulated that employees must abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church.
In its decision on Monday, the state Supreme Court held that St. Theresa School validly asserted the “religious tenets” exception as an affirmative defense, which allows religious entities to make hiring decisions based on criteria established using tenets of their faith, and therefore did not violate New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.
“The religious tenets exception allowed St. Theresa’s to require its employees, as a condition of employment, to abide by Catholic law, including that they abstain from premarital sex. Crisitello, a practicing Catholic and graduate of the St. Theresa School, acknowledged that St. Theresa’s required her to abide by the tenets of the Catholic faith, including that she abstain from premarital sex, as a condition of her employment,” the court filing reads.
The court noted that there was no evidence supporting the position that the termination was for any reason other than premarital sex.
“St. Theresa’s has remained steadfast in basing its employment action on Crisitello’s violation of the terms of her employment as permissibly derived from the tenets of the Catholic faith.
Crisitello was hired in 2011 and worked as an art teacher and toddler room caregiver. She signed an acknowledgment of the Code of Ethics when she was hired.
When she was approached about potentially becoming a full-time art teacher, Crisitello acknowledged in an initial meeting that she was pregnant, according to court documents, and would therefore need a higher salary. The court documents also suggest that it was well-known that Crisitello, a former student at the school, was not married.
A few weeks later, she was told she needed to either resign or be terminated because she had sex out of wedlock, which violated Catholic law, and therefore, her employment contract.
“Of course we are disappointed with the decision because it did not go our way … and we don’t think that going forward a pregnant woman will be treated equally based on these policies of the employment,” Crisitello’s attorney, Thomas McKinney, Crisitello’s attorney, said in a statement to CNN.
“We would have liked to see this reminded in court but we understand the decision of the Supreme Court justice and we accept it,” he added in the statement.