Unwed Mother Challenges N.Y. Parochial School Firing

A Catholic diocese in New York is fighting an unwed teacher’s complaint that she was discriminated against because of being pregnant.

Represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), former pre-K teacher Michelle McCusker filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commis­sion (EEOC) over her discharge from St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in 2005 for being a single, three-months-pregnant woman.

In October, the EEOC sided with McCusker, concluding that the Catholic school discriminated against her because of her pregnancy and urged the school to settle the complaint. The Daily News reported that the Diocese of Brooklyn, which runs the school, was in negotiations with the NYCLU and that the EEOC’s decision paves the way for a lawsuit if a settlement is not reached.

The school has defended its firing of McCusker on religious liberty grounds, saying that McCusker’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy rendered her unfit to “convey the faith, which is an essential element of her teaching duties.”

But McCusker’s counsel disagreed.

“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 told the newspaper that her challenge to the Catholic school’s action is intended to “make the future better” for her daughter Jenna. McCusker also said that she would rear her daughter in the Catholic tradition.