KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jurors ruled against a teacher who alleged that she was fired from a Catholic school in Kansas City, Missouri, because she was pregnant, unmarried and refused to have an abortion.
After eight hours of deliberation, the jurors sided Wednesday with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which said St. Therese School teacher Michelle Bolen was let go in 2015 because of poor performance, The Kansas City Star reports .
Her attorney, E. E. Keenan, argued that the diocese violated a state law that protects women from being fired for refusing to have an abortion. He said it would have been easier to argue pregnancy discrimination, but state law exempts churches.
"This verdict is not an endorsement of what the diocese did and not a criticism of Michelle, just that there is a huge gap in Missouri law as it pertains to workers in religious-based schools in Missouri," he said.
During the trial, Bolen testified that the Rev. Joseph Cisetti told her that had she terminated her pregnancy, the school would not have to deal with the "scandal" of a pregnant, unmarried teacher. The suit says he also told Bolen she could not "return to sender," but if she had, "they would not have been there that day having the discussion about her pregnancy and its repercussions."
Joseph Hatley, the attorney representing the diocese, argued that Bolen never had to refuse to have an abortion because she was never asked to terminate her pregnancy.
Cisetti testified that he "praised" Bolen's decision not to have an abortion but told her she violated her contract. Cisetti said "sexual relations must take place exclusively in marriage." Cisetti says he favored offering Bolen a contract, while the school's then-principal didn't. He says he was concerned about dismissing her because it might create an environment that would be conducive to abortion.
Bishop James Johnston Jr. said in a statement Thursday that Bolen lost in court because "the evidence in this case never supported any of these claims."
Johnston said he was saddened that the reputations of Cisetti and retired school principal Carol Lenz "were dragged through the mud" by the legal proceedings. "Commitment to the dignity of every human life is a motivating factor in Fr. Cisetti's entire ministry," Johnston said.
Bolen says administrators concocted non-pregnancy-related reasons to justify not renewing her contract. Before disclosing her pregnancy, Bolen had received positive performance reviews. Witnesses testified that Bolen had been tardy to class several times and had left her students alone for a couple of minutes after asking another teacher a few doors down to keep watch. She was let go just days after reporting that her older, school-age child and a classmate felt uncomfortable when a teacher massaged their shoulders.
Keenan, her attorney, declined Wednesday to say whether she intended to appeal, saying that they are "evaluating our next step."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com