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Fertilization case against diocese to go on

A federal judge allowed the lawsuit against the local Roman Catholic diocese to proceed – denying the diocese’s request that he rule on it in its earliest stages.

Filed nearly a year ago by Emily Herx, a former teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, the lawsuit claimed the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend violated her constitutional rights by firing her after she underwent in vitro fertilization.

Herx suffers from infertility, a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She argues her termination was a violation of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The treatment is banned under Catholic doctrine, and when news of Herx’s treatment came to light, diocesan officials decided not to renew her contract. Herx, a Ball State graduate with a teaching license from Taylor University, had taught language arts at the school.

A letter written by Bishop Kevin Rhoades last summer called the procedure an “intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it,” according to court documents.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission found in Herx’s favor in January 2012.

A few months after the suit was filed, attorneys for the diocese asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss Herx’s complaint. The diocese argued that it is a religious employer that acted in a manner consistent with its belief when it decided not to renew Herx’s contract.

The Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act make exceptions for compliance in certain areas for religious institutions, diocesan attorneys argued in court documents.

And even if Herx’s interpretation of the behavior as discriminatory was correct, application of the laws would then be a violation of the church’s constitutional right to practice its religion freely, diocesan attorneys argued.

After months of wrangling via court documents and a hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller denied the diocese’s request, saying the case will continue. Both sides will have a conference on how the case will proceed later this month.

rgreen@jg.net

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