Religious schools can’t fire pregnant, unmarried workers – SC

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Religious schools can’t fire pregnant, unmarried workers – SC
A Supreme Court division rules against St Scholastica's College Westgrove over the unjust dismissal of an employee who got pregnant out of wedlock

MANILA, Philippines – Bearing a child out of wedlock is not a just cause to terminate an employee even if the employer is a faith-based institution.

This was the ruling of a Supreme Court (SC) division in the case of Cheryll Santos Leus, who sued her former employer, St Scholastica’s College Westgrove (SSCW), for unjust dismissal.

Leus elevated the case to the High Court after the Court of Appeals affirmed her dismissal.

On Tuesday, February 24, the SC announced that the 23-page decision, penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, draws the line between religious and public morality. 

The school fired Leus, citing the 1992 Manual of Regulation for Private Schools (MRPS), which lists “disgraceful or immoral conduct” as a ground for a workers’ dismissal.

Leus married the father of her child before SSCW fired her, but her earlier pregnancy was seen by SSCW as scandalous to the school.

The SC division said that “when the law refers to morality, it necessarily pertains to public and secular morality and not religious morality.”

“[F]or a conduct to be considered as disgraceful or immoral, it must be ‘detrimental to those conditions which depend [on] the existence and progress of human society’ and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other,” the decision read.

Security of tenure or a workers’ protection from termination without just cause and due process is a right enshrined in the Constitution. (READ: House panel tackles job security bills)

This right cannot be impaired “unless for cause under the Labor Code and other laws, in this case, the 1992 MRPS,” the SC said.

Catholic schools

SSCW is a Catholic institution under the order of Saint Benedict.

SSCW did not provide evidence showing that Leus’s conduct adversely affected its reputation in promoting its moral doctrines among its students and beyond, the SC division ruled.

At the time of Leus’ dismissal, there was no school policy either which regulated the conduct of its employees regarding sexual relations and any resulting pregnancies out of marriage. The institution itself acknowledged this in the case, the SC said.

Religious schools abound in the Philippines, where 80% of the estimated 100 million Filipinos are Catholic.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been aggressive in promoting abstinence before marriage, with a church group offering the masses to swap hand-out condoms for chocolates.

Religious groups also opposed a law sanctioning state funding for artificial contraceptives, even questioning the law before the SC, which eventually upheld the law.

Appeals court ruling reversed

The SC ruling on Leus’ case, promulgated on February 17, reversed an appellate court’s decision that affirmed her dismissal. 

While the Court of Appeals sided with SSCW, the Supreme Court Third Division ruled that “pre-marital relations between two consenting adults who have no impediment to marry each other, and consequently conceiving a child out of wedlock” is not disgraceful or immoral under MRPS.

“[T]here is no law which penalizes an unmarried mother by reason of her sexual conduct or proscribes consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons,” it explained.

“Such conduct is not denounced by public and secular morality. It may be an unusual arrangement, but it certainly is not disgraceful or immoral within the contemplation of the law,” it added. –

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