Roches v. Wade

Supreme Court of Belize, Sep. 30, 2004, Maria Roches v. Clement Wade, Action No. 132 of 2004 (Belize).
Download Judgment: English
Country: Belize
Region: Americas
Year: 2004
Court: Supreme Court
Health Topics: Sexual and reproductive health
Human Rights: Freedom from discrimination, Right to work
Tags: Maternal health, Pregnancy

An unmarried woman was working as a teacher in a Christian school when she became pregnant. She informed the school authorities with the aim of reaching an agreement regarding the terms of the maternity leave. Instead, the school dismissed her for failing “to live according to Jesus’ teachings on marriage and sex.” The woman subsequently brought this suit against the Managing Authority of Catholic Public Schools alleging that her dismissal amounted to sexual discrimination in violation of the Belize Constitution.

The Court held that the woman's dismissal from her employment violated her constitutional right to work, as well as Belize's international obligations to end discrimination against women as a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

According to international case law, dismissals from work justified on religious grounds infringe upon fundamental human rights and human dignity. Such dismissals have a greater impact on women than on men because a man can deny or hide the fact that he has made a woman pregnant, whereas for biological reasons, a woman cannot indefinitely conceal her pregnancy.

"32. [...] I think that this is no more than an affirmation of the right to freedom of religion and the right to propagate that religion in educational institutions run by a religious community. This right should not however, be taken as granting immunity from suit for allegation of discrimination as contained in section 16 of the Constitution."

"45. I have carefully considered the arguments of the respondent that in so far as its unmarried teachers and pregnancy are concerned, it does not discriminate between male and female teachers, it treats both genders the same way: it has a policy of releasing such teachers on account of pregnancy. But there is however, this immovable object in the way of such a policy being ever even-handed or non-discriminatory. And this is biology, gender or sex."

"46. In the nature of things, by biology, gender and indeed sex, the policy if I may so call it, of the respondent of dismissing any teacher, male or female, who impregnates or is impregnated out of wedlock, would more assuredly, naturally and readily impact or affect a teacher of the gender or sex of Ms. Roches, that is, the female of the species. At the risk of sounding trite, men do not get pregnant and they (together with so-called biological advances as in-vitro fertilization or the so-called artificial insemination) impregnate women. But if they, that is the men, do not tell or are not reported or caught out somehow, which they can even deny, the respondent would not ever, ever know, in all probability, know of a male unmarried teacher being responsible for any pregnancy which, it is even possible, could be of several women by that unmarried male teacher at the same time. In this event, there is possibly no likelihood of ever applying the respondent's policy of dismissing this unmarried male teacher."

"62. In the light of my findings in this case I ineluctably grant the declaration Ms. Roches seeks in her motion that her dismissal on 26 June 2003 from her job as a teacher at the Santa Cruz Roman Catholic Primary School on the ground of having becoming pregnant without being married, is a violation of her constitutional rights under section 16(2) of the Belize Constitution. And I so declare.

I declare as well that the refusal of the respondent to reinstate Ms. Roches after being so required to do so by the Chief Education Officer of Belize is not in keeping with the statutory duties of the respondent and constitute as well an infringement of Ms. Roches’ right to work as provided for in section 15(1) of the Constitution.

However, I am unable, given the facts of this case and the undoubted spiritual and moral position of the respondent, for which I have every sensitivity and respect, and coupled with the fact that Ms. Roches’ contract is one of personal service as a teacher, to order her reinstatement in the respondent’s employ. I cannot do this."