According to administrators at Holy Trinity School in San Diego, they were between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand was second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth, a divorced mother of four and a victim of domestic abuse. On the other hand were all the other parents of Holy Trinity, expressing concern about Charlesworth’s ex-husband and his history of violence and lawlessness.
One Monday morning this past January, Charlesworth’s husband had shown up in the school’s parking lot, prompting administrators to authorize a lockdown.
Immediately after, the school notified Holy Trinity parents that Charlesworth and her children (also students at the school) were on “indefinite leave.” And then in April Charlesworth received a letter from the school stating that “In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return there, or unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese.” Before getting to that part of the letter, Charlesworth had to read two full paragraphs about her ex-husband’s deviant behavior, which I’m sure was a real treat.
Charlesworth will continue to be paid her wages through August but says "They’ve taken away my ability to care for my kids. It’s not like I can go out and find a teaching job anywhere.” Charlesworth also stated that she feels like the criminal, although her husband is the one doing time in jail on two felony charges. Holy Trinity cited uncertainty surrounding his release date as a factor in their decision.
Charlesworth has retained an attorney and intends to sue her former employer, as California law does provide some workplace protections for victims of domestic abuse. However, Kenneth Hoyt, Charlesworth’s attorney, said that Holy Trinity has “ministerial exception” on its side, because Charlesworth taught religion as part of her job duties. Although this responsibility was a minor one, apparently there’s legal precedence showing that Charlesworth can be fired without cause just like a priest or pastor.
Advocates for victims of domestic abuse have criticized Holy Trinity for its action, and while this termination stinks, one can’t dismiss the school’s concerns out of hand. According to The New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly half of women who obtain restraining orders will have those orders violated by their abusers, and it’s understandable if school administrators are wary of the potential risks to their staff and students. Domestic abuse is a huge issue in this country, and the laws designed to protect victims aren't always very effective.
Having said that, it’s more than a shame that Charlesworth, who’s already been repeatedly victimized by her ex-husband, is now suffering additional losses as a result of his behavior. Heather Finlay, Chief Executive of YWCA San Diego told NBC 7, "We have one in three women in the United States who are victims of domestic violence. Firing all of them is not the answer."
You have admit she’s making sense.
Nevertheless, this must have been a sticky ethical dilemma for Holy Trinity. Whether it will prove to be as sticky a legal dilemma remains to be seen.