Catholic school fires teacher who suffered domestic abuse

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 09:31 AM

Carie Charlesworth had been a teacher at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon, Calif., for 14 years. She taught second grade.  She was fired not for anything related to her performance in the classroom but because of the school’s fears that she could be a liability.  Her four children were students there.

She said that her ex-husband abused her.  She said that last January, “We’d had a very bad weekend with him.  We’d called the sheriff’s department three times on Sunday with him.” The following morning, she told Francie Wright, the principal of Holy Trinity School, to be on the watch for her ex-husband. He showed up in the school’s parking lot and the administration put the school on lock-down.     

Afterwards, Carie Charlesworth and her children were “placed on an indefinite leave,” according to a letter sent by the principal. Then, in April, Charlesworth was told that the school was firing her. A letter from education officials in the Diocese of San Diego said: “We feel deeply for you and about the situation in which you and your children find yourselves in. [“However], in the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we cannot allow you to return to work there, or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese.”  Also, her children were not allowed to return to school.

The church diocese felt that Martin Charlesworth's "twenty-plus year history of violence, abuse and harassment of people" and "threatening people, including those whom he believes are interfering with his intent at any time" put the members of the school community at risk. 

Carie Charlesworth said  her termination  and her children’s no longer being allowed to attend the school felt like punishment “for something we didn’t even do.”

She feels she cannot find a teaching job anywhere and that they hurt “my ability to care for my kids.  Carie Charlesworth is to receive her salary through August.  She also has been offered a different kind of job in another city.  Her ex-husband is incarcerated on felony domestic violence charges and is to be released at the end of June.

Carie Charlesworth says she is hopeful that talking about her story can draw attention to what survivors of domestic violence go through. As she says, “That’s why women of domestic violence don’t come forward.   They’re afraid of the way people are going to see them, perceive them, treat them.”

Indeed: A 2011 study by the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center says that, in California, almost 40 percent of survivors of domestic violence reported being fired from their jobs or fearing termination.

A number of parents whose children attend Holy Trinity School say that they support the Diocese’s decision, as it was made to “protect all of our kids.”  But another parent calls it “shameful” for Charlesworth to be fired especially as she had done the right thing: “She came to the principal, told her the situation.  She protected the children.”

Rita Smith, the executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, came to Carie Charlesworth's defense. She condemned the entire community for turning against the victim. "Communities must stand up to these bullies and say No More!" she told the Huffington Post.

Her condemnation was too widespread.  The decision to fire Charlesworth may have come from the higher-ups at the church diocese, not from the school.

A petition has been filed on the Internet urging the school to re-hire Charlesworth. At the time of this writing, there appear to be 7,600 signatures.  When that number reaches 10,000, the school will be informed. 

If the diocese reconsiders, will Carie Charlesworth agree to go back to that school?  Her whole sense of security and spiritual support has crumbled away.

If she does not return to the school, the diocese should do better for her.  In addition to paying her more, they should work hard at pulling strings to help her get a job that will be satisfying to her.  A Catholic diocese has a lot of influence.  They can do it.

Stanley Peele is a retired judge,