A Catholic elementary school teacher has been fired after a domestic violence incident with her ex-husband. The San Diego Diocese school district cited Carie Charlesworth’s ex-husband’s "threatening and menacing behavior” and violent past as a liability to the school, and as a result she cannot work at any school in the diocese.
"They’ve taken away my ability to care for my kids,” Charlesworth told NBC San Diego. “It’s not like I can go out and find a teaching job anywhere.”
Charlesworth, a second grade teacher at San Diego’s Holy Trinity School, says the firing stems an incident with her ex-husband, Martin Charlesworth, that took place on school grounds. Despite a restraining order, he showed up in the school’s parking lot. The school went on lockdown and a letter was sent to parents explaining that Charlesworth and her four children were put on an “indefinite leave of absence.”
Martin Charlesworth went to jail on two felony charges. A search of his criminal past shows more than 20 offenses in Alaska, six of which relate to domestic violence.
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“And that’s what it felt like, the kids and I were being punished for something we didn’t even do,” Carie told NBC San Diego.
Three months later, Charlesworth received another letter in the mail saying she had been fired:
“We know from the most recent incident involving you and Mrs. Wright (the principal) while you were still physically at Holy Trinity School, that the temporary restraining order in effect were not a deterrent to him. Although we understand he is currently incarcerated, we have no way of knowing how long or short a time he will actually serve and we understand from court files that he may be released as early as next fall. In the interest of the 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."
Several unnamed parents have voiced their concerns over school safety. They said the district made the right choice in a “no-win situation.” One parent described a potential boycott of the school if the diocese allowed Charlesworth to return to teaching.
Charlesworth says this is the reason why she went public with her name and story. “I mean that’s why women of domestic violence don’t come forward, because they’re afraid of the way people are going to see them, view them, perceive them, treat them,” she said.
Despite Charlesworth’s controversial firing, her legal battle may be challenging. According to the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, most California employees are considered to be employed at an “at will” basis, meaning they can be fired at any time.
Charlesworth’s attorney Kenneth Hoyt, who plans on filing a lawsuit, says "ministerial exception” may be a challenge. The provision is intended to protect the freedom of religious institutions by allowing them to choose teachers as they see fit, not according to anti-discrimination laws. In Charlesworth’s case, there’s legal precedent that says she may be fired without cause, just like a priest or pastor.
Domestic violence advocates point to preventative measures like increasing workplace knowledge surrounding domestic violence, developing a company policy and finding ways to remove the threat, not the victim, to help abuse victims.
“Firing all these women is not the answer. You have to deal with this and it’s really up to all of us.” YWCA San Diego CEO Heather Finlay told NBC San Diego.