July 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – An order of nuns was forced to pay 25,000 Euros to a teacher for discontinuing her employment based on the incompatibility of her sexual orientation with the school’s ethos.
For the first time in Italy, a judge has fined a Catholic school on the ground of discrimination towards a female teacher for her public homosexual lifestyle.
The Institute “Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” in the northern Italian town of Trento paid a sum of 25,000 Euros in reparation of property damage to an anonymous teacher. Additionally they were fined 1,500€ to the “Radical Association of Certain Rights” – a gay rights activist group in Italy and another 1,500€ to a local labor union.
The case goes back to a conversation in 2014 between the teacher and the then-director of the educational institute, Sister Eugenia Libratore, who had heard about the teacher living together in a romantic relationship with another woman. Sister Libratore, who was then mother superior but passed away in September 2015, justified her inquiry to the teacher by saying that it was her responsibility to protect the minors in her school. The teacher had refused to answer the question, despite the fact that Sister Libratore told her: “To resolve the problem, it would have been enough to confirm or negate the rumors, therefore guaranteeing a professional continuity at the Institute.” Despite this promise, the employee was unwilling to describe her personal situation to the nun, leading the mother superior to the conclusion that her indisposition to answer “equals to the assent of being homosexual.”
The labor court of Rovereto declared that the “presumed homosexuality of the teacher had nothing to do with her adhesion to the educative project of the school.” The court further reproached the school for “collective discrimination” since the decision of the school administration allegedly “affects everyone that potentially is interested in taking on a position in the Institute.”
Alexander Schuster, lawyer of the teacher who preferred to stay anonymous, added that: “This decision makes one point clear: that employers of religious or philosophical inspiration cannot subject their employers to questions about their private lives or discriminate them for their choices in life. The use of contraceptives, the choice of cohabitation, divorce, and abortions are private decisions of a person and do not affect the employer.”
Despite the Catholic character of the school and her personal reservations, Sister Libratore told the teacher that she would have “been available to close an eye if she [the teacher] had agreed to resolve the problem.” This “resolving the problem” was understood by the teacher as an invitation to change her lifestyle. Consequently she felt offended at the intimation that homosexuality was “a problem, a sickness, or something that needed to be cured,” as attested in an interview.
The Catholic Institute denied the accusation of discrimination from the start, claiming that there were no grounds to renew the work contract which had come to its natural contractual close in the first place.
Despite this, the judge spoke in favor of the teacher, quoting the law of discrimination in the workplace (effective in Italy since 2003) that calls for “the absence of any direct or indirect discrimination on the ground of religion, personal convictions, handicaps, age, or sexual orientation.”
Italian legislation does have a provision for religious liberty which states that differences in treatment based on religious convictions within a religious organization are not considered discrimination if the nature of the religious conviction does not stand in the way of carrying out one’s profession in the given context. Yet the judge ruled that “in this case, discrimination of sexual orientation was proven; not discrimination because of a religious conviction.”