A woman who was fired from her teaching job after a domestic violence incident involving her ex-husband has filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of San Diego.
Carie Charlesworth was told to leave her second grade teaching position at Holy Trinity Catholic School in El Cajon earlier this year after her husband demonstrated "threatening and menacing behavior” on school grounds. Tuesday afternoon, she filed a lawsuit in San Diego’s downtown superior court.
“I want to accomplish change, I want them to know they should not treat people like this,” Charlesworth said.
The single mother of four children became the source of intense social and moral debate in June when NBC 7 San Diego first reported her situation. Dozens of parents at Holy Trinity School came forward to show their support of the school, which they say put safety as a first priority. Advocates for domestic violence victims said the firing marked a significant step back in the ongoing fight to empower victims to speak up.
The suit names the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego as a defendant along with several people holding prominent positions within the diocese. NBC 7’s phone calls and emails to the defendants were not returned.
Fighting the Catholic Church on employment disputes is historically an uphill battle. As a religious institution they have more legal latitude, discretion and protection in firing employees.
“My contract with the diocese held me to a standard they didn’t uphold themselves” said Charlesworth.
Earlier this year, Charlesworth traveled to Sacramento to fight for Senate Bill 400, which would not only prevent employers from firing victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, but also require companies to make efforts to protect them.
Charlesworth’s attorney says his lawsuit is based on the district’s own contract with teacher’s, which requires them to follow the precepts of the Catholic Church.
“When there was a speculative danger to the school community, the church’s doctrine says ‘We need to pull together, we need to protect the school and Carie and her children.’” said attorney Ken Hoy. “To do less is to breach some of the most important Catholic principles that exist.”
Charlesworth’s four children are also named as plaintiffs because they were expelled from the school last spring as a result of growing concern about their father’s erratic behavior.
“They still were following the rules of the school, they were good students, good kids, they had no reason to be expelled from a school” said Charlesworth.
The complaint also seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.