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Tough for a Woman|to Please the Church

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CN) - A schoolteacher claims in Federal Court that the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and St. Vincent de Paul School fired her and called her a "grave, immoral sinner" because she and her husband were trying to have a baby through in vitro fertilization.

Emily Herx says she received the highest marks in her evaluations during her tenure as an English teacher at St. Vincent from August 2003 until she was fired on June 22, 2011.

Herx, who did not teach religion, "was not required to complete any training or education in the Catholic faith as a part of her employment," she says in the complaint.

She says she and her husband sought in vitro fertilization because she "suffers from a diagnosed medical condition which causes infertility."

Shen she told her principal about the treatment, she says, the principal told her, "You are in my prayers." She says the principal did not object when she scheduled days off for her in vitro fertilization treatment.

But more than a year later, after requesting time off for a second round of IVF treatment, she says, she was told to meet with Msgr. John Kuzmich, pastor of the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Fort Wayne.

Herx says that Kuzmich told her at the meeting "that another teacher had complained that Herx and her husband were undergoing IVF treatment."

"On May 24, 2011, Herx, her husband, and her father met with Msgr. Kuzmich and [St. Vincent Principal Sandra] Guffey," the complaint states. "Msgr. Kuzmich repeatedly told Herx that she was a 'grave, immoral sinner' and that it would cause a 'scandal' if anyone was to find out that St. Vincent de Paul had a teacher who received fertility treatment. Msgr. Kuzmich told Herx that this situation would not have occurred had no one found out about the treatments, and that some things were 'better left between the individual and God.'"

During that meeting, Herx says, Kuzmich confirmed that she was "an excellent teacher" and that "her performance had nothing to do with the decision to terminate her employment."

Herx adds at that that meeting, "Msgr. Kuzmich asked Herx questions about the medical treatment. His questions made it clear that he did not understand the medical treatments actually administered to Herx and her husband by a duly licensed medical doctor and was, instead, relying on uninformed assumptions about fertility treatment in general."

Herx says she was fired for "[i]mproprieties related to Church teachings or Law."

She said an appeal to Bishop Kevin Rhoades was unsuccessful.

"Bishop Rhoades refused to renew Herx's contract, stating that 'The process of in vitro fertilization very frequently involves the deliberate destruction or freezing of human embryos,' and 'In vitro fertilization ... is an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it.' Herx's appeal to the Bishop was the final step in the administrative appeals process within the Diocese."

Herx says no embryos were destroyed during her treatment, but was fired even after informing Kuzmich and Guffey of that fact. Herx adds that the diocese's insurance plan, which is self-funded, covered her visits to her fertility doctor.

Herx says she was fired even though the defendants still employ teachers who do not regularly attend Catholic mass; who are divorced (including Guffey); who have had hysterectomies, vasectomies and other procedures that have altered their reproductive organs; and who use contraceptives.

At no time did the defendants provide any training or policies to explain what is and is not acceptable regarding fertility treatments, Herx says.

She seeks actual and punitive damages for violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She is represented by Kathleen DeLaney, of Indianapolis.

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