In 2014, Victoria Crisitello, an unmarried and pregnant employee at St. Theresa School in Kenilworth, New Jersey, was fired for having engaged premarital sex. Crisitello swiftly sued the Catholic school, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, according to court documents. Her firing, she claimed, was a “‘mere pretext’ for pregnancy and marital-status discrimination.” Nearly a decade later, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school on Tuesday.
“While we recognize that the United States Supreme Court’s prior decisions provide broad latitude to religious employers regarding hiring and firing, we believe the NJ Supreme Court could have, and should have, held that a second grade art teacher was entitled to the protections of the Law Against Discrimination,” Alexander Shalom, the ACLU’s New Jersey Director of Supreme Court Advocacy, told CNN in response to the ruling.
Crisitello began working at St. Theresa School as a toddler room caregiver in 2011, court documents show. Three years into her tenure, she was approached about a position as a full-time art teacher. In a meeting to discuss the role with the school’s principal, Sister Theresa Lee, Crisitello mentioned that she was pregnant. She was unmarried at the time.
Several weeks later, Crisitello says she was told that she’d breached the school’s code of ethics—a statute that required St. Theresa School’s employees to adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church. As a result, Crisitello’s contract was terminated, and the role was filled by a married woman with children. In April of 2012, Crisitello filed the lawsuit against the school, which countered that her pregnancy was in violation of her employment agreement. Apparently when Crisitello was hired, she’d signed paperwork that stated her compliance with the school’s code of conducts. And the Supreme Court of New Jersey ultimately ruled that religious entities can use religious tenet exceptions of state employment law as an “affirmative defense” when facing claims of employment discrimination.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General told CNN that they were “disappointed” with the decision. Meanwhile, Peter G. Verniero, the school’s attorney, said, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the rights of religious employers to act consistent with their religious tenets, and that St. Theresa School did so here.”
What year is it again?