ROME (RNS) A Catholic school in northern Italy has been found guilty of discriminating against a gay teacher in a case sparked when a nun quizzed the employee on her sexual orientation.
The Daughters of the Sacred Heart Institute in Trento was ordered to pay 25,000 euros ($28,500) to the female teacher, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday (June 23).
In addition, the school was told to pay 1,500 euros each to a labor union and civil rights association.
The teacher — whose name was withheld — told the court that in July 2014 she was called into a meeting with the mother superior, who asked her to clarify rumors that she was living with a female partner.
The mother superior reportedly justified her questions by reminding the teacher she worked in a religious institution where there were children who needed to be protected.
In response to the mother superior’s questioning, the teacher refused to discuss her sexual orientation and subsequently her job contract was not renewed. The school said its hiring decision was taken to protect its educational project, while also claiming the teacher was guilty of improper conduct.
But the court ruled the school’s conduct was marred by an assumption the teacher was a lesbian, which impacted the school’s evaluation of her work and damaged her reputation.
The woman later publicly identified as gay.
Going further, the court argued it was a case of collective discrimination, because the incident would have a damaging effect on anyone potentially interested in working at the school.
The decision by the Rovereto labor court was hailed as a victory by the teacher’s lawyer, Alexander Schuster, who said it was clear proof a religious organization cannot interrogate employees on their private life or discriminate against them based on their choices.
“The use of contraceptives, choices such as cohabitation, divorce, abortion, are among the most intimate decisions a person can make and must not concern an employer,” he was quoted in Corriere as saying.
A spokesperson for the school was not immediately available to comment on the case when contacted by RNS.