New Jersey Supreme Court Backs Catholic School In Lawsuit

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The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Roman Catholic school in a case involving employment discrimination allegations from an employee who was terminated after she became pregnant out of wedlock.

Victoria Crisitello, who had been employed by St. Theresa School since 2011, filed a complaint against the school alleging discrimination based on pregnancy and marital status after she was terminated. The school had alleged that, in having premarital sex, Crisitello had violated the terms of her employment agreement- which stipulated that employees must abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the school had validly asserted the “religious tenets” exception, which allows religious entities to make hiring decisions based on criteria established using tenets of their faith, as an affirmative defense and that it did not violate New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

Court documents suggest that the school, when presented with Crisitello’s pregnancy, instructed her to either resign or be terminated because she had sex out of wedlock- which violated Catholic law, and therefore, violated her employment contract. The Court noted that there was no evidence supporting the position that the termination was for any reason other than premarital sex.

“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.

Crisitello’s attorney, Thomas McKinney, expressed his disapproval of the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that “We don’t think that going forward a pregnant woman will be treated equally based on these policies of the employment”.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barry Albin commented, “I find it perplexing that the court permits an employer to use religious tenets to trump state anti-discrimination laws. In so doing, the Court demeans the great value this state has always placed on its citizens’ right to be free from discrimination.”