Should a teacher be liable if his or her spouse breaks a restraining order and enters school premises?
Carie Charlesworth, a second grade teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School, was let go from her job because she was deemed a "liability" after her ex-husband Martin Charlesworth violated restraining orders by driving next to the school’s campus. Ms. Charlesworth had warned the school that her ex-husband may come by, and a security guard spotted him. He was later arrested.
Charlesworth received a letter in April — three months after the incident — from the Diocese of San Diego telling her that "In the interest of safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese."
Many parents at the school supported administrators' decision to let Charlesworth go, citing safety concerns. Her attorney, Kenneth Hoyt, plans to file a lawsuit on her behalf but he worries that ministerial exception — a law that exempts religious institutions from adhering to federal anti-discrimination laws — will leave Ms. Charlesworth without a case.
While it’s unclear how this specific case will turn out, it highlights the difficulties that domestic violence survivors face even after they leave their abusers.
A 2011 study by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center shows that nearly 40 percent of survivors in California reported being fired or feared termination because of domestic violence. This often leads victims to keep quiet and the abuse to go unreported.
A new bill, SB 400, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), aims to protect the employment rights of survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. If California adopts the bill it will be one of five states with such legislation.
Did the school react in the best interest of its students by letting Mrs. Charlesworth go? What can be done to help domestic violence survivors maintain employment security? What protections are currently in place? If you're a parent, would you support the school's decision?
Brad Dacus, President of Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit organization that defends religious liberties and parental rights
Julia Parish, gender and employment rights attorney with the nonprofit Legal Aid Society, who is working on SB 400 legislation.
Letter sent to Charlesworth from the school:
Letter sent to Charlesworth from the Diocese of San Diego: