Nathaniel Hawthore wrote: “[The scarlet letter] had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.” The same could be said of Victoria Crisitello, who, like Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” found herself faced with the ramifications of violating religious code when the Catholic school in which she worked learned that Crisitello—an unmarried teacher—was pregnant. The school terminated her employment for engaging in pre-marital sex. Crisitello’s pregnancy was her Scarlet Letter, the only visible indicia that she engaged in conduct forbidden by the school, and a Scarlet Letter that, by definition, no male could wear. The New Jersey Supreme Court will soon decide whether her discrimination claims may move forward or are barred by the First Amendment.
Crisitello worked as an art teacher at St. Theresa School in Kenilworth (“the School”). She never taught classes about religion and did not serve as a member of the clergy. The School, however, did require its “lay faithful” teachers to avoid engaging in conduct that may result in “scandal” or harm the Catholic Church. In 2014, Crisitello informed the School’s principal that she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, the School, which claims that it knew Crisitello was unmarried, terminated Crisitello’s employment based on a Catholic tenet prohibiting pre-marital sex, notwithstanding that neither the employee handbook nor any code of conduct at the School specifically prohibited pre-marital sex. The School’s written policy, however, required all teachers “whether employed in the areas of ministry or other kinds of services” to adhere to a code not “contrary to the discipline and teachings of the Catholic Church[.]” Crisitello acknowledged that she knew her conduct was “not acceptable” to the Catholic Church. The School replaced Crisitello with a married woman with children.