The Tel Aviv District Labour Court (Judge Osnat Rubowitz-Barchash) recently gave a decision which dealt with a uniquely Israeli question: what happens when an unmarried teacher in an all-girls religious high-school becomes pregnant not the good old-fashioned way, but using in vitro fertilization (IVF)? Does the school have the right to fire her on the grounds that she has contravened the values of the school and as such cannot serve as an role model for her adolescent students? If the school does not have the right to fire her but nonetheless does, to what kind of compensation is she entitled?
Well, the school did, the woman sued and ultimately the judged ruled this was a wrongful firing, and ordered the school to pay her compensation.
Due to the public importance of the case, the court allowed the Council for Equal Opportunities in Employment and Kolech-Religious Women’s Forum to join as Friends of Court and to present their positions to the court on the matter.
Here’s a link to the court decision in Hebrew, which I’ll summarize briefly below.
What’s important to understand for the purposes of this decision, is a trend among single religious women in Israel who have not married and want to have children. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, Israel is a fairly pro-natal society. As such, single women over a certain age (somewhere in their thirties) who have no children, are eligible as part of the regular state health services to undergo IVF treatments with anonymous sperm donors. They are allowed to have two children under this arrangement; I assume that if they want to have more, they must foot the bill for the IVF treatments.
For many single women this is attractive since it allows them to have a child without the complications of having to deal with a former boyfriend/partner. (As to whether or not this is ultimately good or bad for the children, that’s another discussion).
For religious women the option is particularly attractive, since it allows them to have a child without engaging in forbidden sexual relations with a man to whom they are not married.
In the case mentioned above, the woman had taught for over a decade in a high-school for religious girls. She became pregnant using IVF and informed the school principal of such. At that point, he told her that she could no longer keep her job, since her choice to have a child while not married meant that she wasn’t a worthy role model for the students.
Ultimately, the court ruled that in addition to a number of labour laws that were violated, the firing constituted a violation of the Law for Equal Employment Opportunities, 5748-1988, the Law of Equal Opportunities for Women, 5711-1951, as well as the constitutional right of the teacher to parenthood.
The court ordered the school to pay compensation under labour laws including unlawful dismissal, as well as for violation of laws regulating the employment of women.
In weighing the conflicting interests at stake in this case, the court noted that the law allows for religious schools to set criteria for their teachers, and to demand that they observe Jewish law. In this case however, the teacher continued to observe Jewish law, so that the court ruled that the school could not discriminate against her because she decided to have and raise a child while not being married. Once some rabbinic authorities sanction this phenomenon, the teacher’s rights outweigh the right of the school to fire her since the institution or the principal objects to the practice. In addition Kolech argued that there are significant numbers of women in society bearing and raising children under these circumstances, so that judicial policy must ensure that their rights are safeguarded.