By Bob Driehaus
CINCINNATI, Ohio (Reuters) - A Catholic school teacher fired by the Cincinnati Archdiocese after becoming pregnant by artificial insemination was awarded $171,000 in damages on Monday by a federal court jury that ruled her dismissal violated U.S. anti-discrimination laws.
The U.S. District Court jury in Cincinnati awarded Christa Dias $71,000 in lost wages and emotional distress damages and ordered the archdiocese to pay her $100,000 in punitive damages.
The jurors did not find liable the two Catholic grade schools where Dias taught computer programming, which were also named as defendants in the case.
In 2010, the archdiocese fired Dias on the grounds that she had violated terms of a contract that she signed promising to adhere to Catholic morality, which it said barred the use of artificial insemination.
Robert Klingler, the attorney for Dias, argued that the archdiocese fired her for being pregnant out of wedlock, which constituted a violation of federal law that bars employers from dismissing workers for being pregnant.
"The jury decided that federal law trumps contract law," Klingler said. "You can't sign away your rights to be protected."
Klingler had suggested in court that Dias be compensated as much as $600,000.
"We're disappointed, but it's a very complex verdict, and we're going to have to study it before we decide whether to appeal," said Dan Andriacco, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Andriacco said the archdiocese had fired employees many times for violations of the morality contract, including for pregnancies out of wedlock.
"It's not a particularly rare occurrence. What is rare is our being sued for it," he said.
(Editing by Brendan O'Brien, Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)