2006-10-13 / Community

EEOC Urges St. Rose To Settle With Fired Teacher

Agency Charges 'Pregnancy Discrimination'
By Howard Schwach

Michelle McClusker, center, with her father and NYCLU official Donna Lieberman at a 2005 press conference to announce the filing of the EEOC complaint.
Michelle McClusker, center, with her father and NYCLU official Donna Lieberman at a 2005 press conference to announce the filing of the EEOC complaint. A parochial school teacher who was fired by St. Rose of Lima Church School because she was pregnant and unmarried, was the victim of "pregnancy discrimination," the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled.

Prekindergarten teacher Michelle McClusker was given a letter of termination from the church school in October of 2005, less than a week after she reportedly told the school's principal, Theresa Anderson, about her pregnancy. At the time, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Brooklyn said that the rules as stated in the teacher's handbook were clear and that McClusker's pregnancy out of wedlock "made her unable to convey the faith which is an essential element of her teaching duties."

The American Civil Liberties Uncion (ACLU) agreed to represent the terminated teacher and they filed a discrimination suit with the EEOC in early December of 2005.

"The parish's decision to terminate Ms. McClusker was an intentional and unlawful discrimination based on her sex and pregnant status," an ACLU official said at the time.

"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 that constitutes sex discrimination and, in this case, pregnancy discrimination."

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says, "An employer cannot [discriminate against] a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related condition or because of the prejudice of co-workers, clients or customers."

Elizabeth Grossman, a spokesperson for the EEOC told The Wave that when her organization finds that there is reasonable cause for the complaint that there is a period of "conciliation" where the parties are asked to settle the complaint on their own before the agency steps in and mandates a settlement. "This experience was devastating, and I'm very happy that the EEOC has provided us with an opportunity to resolve it," McClusker said in a prepared press statement. "This was my first teaching job and it is gratifying that the EEOC agrees that it was discrimination to fire me."

Because the case is now in that conciliation period, Grossman declined to comment further on the case. Frank DeRosa, a spokesperson for the church, issued a statement that read, "St. Rose of Lima Parish disagrees with the EEOC determination because it impinges on its religious beliefs. It will consider exploring the possibilty of concilliation."

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