Fired pregnant teacher settles with Montana Catholic school

AP News
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Posted: Mar 15, 2016 3:20 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A teacher fired from a Catholic school in Montana after an anonymous letter writer said she was unmarried and pregnant reached a confidential settlement with the school district and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena.

Shaela Evenson was fired from Butte Central Catholic Schools in 2014 after the diocese received the letter. Evenson sued, accusing the school district and the diocese of pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination and breach of contract.

The school and diocese responded that she had breached her contract by going against the religious and moral teachings of the church.

After months of negotiations, the sides filed notice Monday that they reached a settlement and they expect to ask a judge to dismiss the case next week. Once executed, the deal would avert a trial scheduled for April.

The agreement is confidential, Butte Central Superintendent Tim Uhl said Tuesday. He said diocese Bishop George Leo Thomas told him to "do what's right" and take a conciliatory tone toward resolving the lawsuit.

"He doesn't want to take it to court because there has been a lot of hurt and harm," Uhl said. "I know it was very painful for Ms. Evenson, as well as the Butte Central community, and we're hoping to put this behind us and move on."

Evenson's attorney, Brian Gallik of Bozeman, did not return calls for comment.

Evenson became pregnant through artificial insemination and gave birth to a boy in 2014. She taught literature and physical education to middle-school students for nine years.

She also led classes in daily prayer and accompanied her class to Mass, which attorneys for the school district said qualified her as a ministerial employee ineligible to make discrimination claims.

A religious exemption in federal law prohibits discrimination lawsuits by employees who perform essentially religious functions. Evenson's attorneys said she was not a ministerial employee.

Uhl declined to comment on the details of the settlement but said it did not include any provision to change district personnel policy.

The diocese provides policy guidelines but managing school policy is up to individual school districts, diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson said.