MISSOULA, Mont. - The Superintendent of Montana Catholic Schools is standing by the decision to fire a Butte teacher for being unwed and pregnant.
Shaela Evenson would mark 10 years with Butte Central this year. She taught 6th, 7th and 8th graders and was a teacher students liked.
"She was always the teacher that you could go to talk to," said Butte Central student Savannah Healy.
But the Catholic Diocese of Helena fired Evenson for being unwed and pregnant, saying it violated her contract.
"When an employee willingly violates the terms of an employment contract that employee self-selects to not teach in the Catholic school anymore," said Montana Catholic Schools Superintendent Patrick Haggarty.
The policies of the Montana Catholic Schools are outlined in a 45-page faculty handbook. It says "Catholic school employees will live a lifestyle compatible with catholic moral values."
"That's part of teaching in the Catholic school," said Haggarty. "We have expectations and we put those down in the employment contract and we hold our teachers to that contract."
Those policies and the contract may not stand up in court if it got there.
A similar case went to a federal jury in Cincinnati. Catholic school teacher Christa Dias was unwed and used artificial insemination to get pregnant. She was fired by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2010. Dias took it to court, and a jury found that she had been discriminated against -- the contract violated state law. Dias ended up with $170,000 when the case was finished.
Now Evenson has hired the same law firm that represented Dias, and according to a Missoula employment contract attorney she may have a case.
"Montana protects people from discrimination on the basis of marital status," said Cindy Smith. "So if she's fired because she's pregnant and unmarried then that's two forms of discrimination."
Smith is clear it's against Montana law, but Haggarty stands by his decision.
"We're going to be great teachers of children and we're also going to be great teachers and role models of the Catholic faith," Haggarty said. "That's the expectation that our parents have when they send children to Catholic schools."
The law firm Evenson hired did not return phone calls or emails Wednesday.
The Catholic Diocese of Helena sent out the following press release Wednesday:
On Monday, January 13 Butte Central Catholic Schools ended the employment of one of its teachers, Shaela Evenson.
Catholic School Educators in the Diocese of Helena are bound by contract to uphold and teach Catholic values and beliefs and to be role models of the Catholic faith. When an employee's actions contradict these beliefs and teachings, school administrators have the responsibility to take appropriate steps.
We continue to keep Ms. Evenson, students and their families and the Butte Catholic Schools community in our prayers.