Carie Charlesworth: Why Did a Catholic School Fire a Teacher For Having an Abusive Ex-Husband?


Second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth was fired by Holy Trinity School in San Diego not for anything she did in the classroom, but because she was a victim of domestic violence and deemed too unsafe to have around the school.

Charlesworth was fired in April, with school officials' justification being their concern over the "threatening and menacing behavior" of Charlesworth's ex-husband that may affect the school. The mother of four children, who also had to discontinue their studies at the school, is now jobless, and after 14 years in the district, is not allowed to teach at any other Diocesan school. "They've taken away my ability to take care of kids ... It's not like I can just go anywhere right now and find a teaching job," said a tearful Charlesworth in an interview with NBC San Diego.

The school was made aware of the issue in January, when Charlesworth told her principal to be on lookout for her ex-husband after she and her children spent a "very bad weekend" with him, in which they "called the sheriff's department three times on Sunday with him," said Charlesworth. When her ex-husband pulled up in the school's parking lot, the entire school went into lock-down. It is to be noted that according to the school, "at no time were the students or staff threatened or did Mr. Charlesworth gain access to [the] school grounds." Since then, neither Ms. Charlesworth nor her children have been back to the school.

In April, Charlesworth received an apologetic but unhelpful letter of termination from the school terminating her contract indefinitely, justifying it as "in the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents." Furthermore, when the threat of Charlesworth's ex-husband came to light, several parents formed a movement to "pull kids out of the school" if Charlesworth returned.

While the school and parents' fears over the safety of the children may be justified, their reactions are not. Charlesworth feels criminalized for something she did not do and cannot control; "it felt like ... the kids and I were being punished for something we didn't even do," she said.

Charlesworth intends on filing a lawsuit against the school, but this is no easy legal case, either. As part of her duties Charlesworth taught religion as a small part of her lesson plan, and for this reason the school can claim "Ministerial Exception" as legal precedence of firing Charlesworth without cause like a priest or pastor. (This, of course, has nothing to do with the true reason for which Charlesworth was fired; nevertheless, it decreases the lawsuit's chances of success.)

This is an outrageous yet complex issue, both legally and ethically, but more importantly, it is, according to NBC, "a story that has domestic violence advocates outraged, fearing it will only reinforce an age-old problem where victims stay silent." Instead of supporting Charlesworth, the Holy Trinity Diocese shut her out, leaving her to fend for herself and her four children with no job or future job in the Diocese. "I've not been back in a Catholic church since this happened," said Charlesworth.

She also says that it is this kind of treatment exhibited by employers "why women of domestic violence do not come forward, because they are afraid of the way that people are going to see them, view them ... treat them."

Charlesworth is not alone. In 2011, 40% of Californian survivors were fired or feared termination due to domestic violence. The YWCA considers this "a step backwards to get domestic violence victims to move forward." Heather Finlay, CEO of YWCA San Diego, calls on employers to become knowledgeable and proactive, remove the threat and not the victim, and communicate and involve the victim rather than shutting them out. "One in three women in the United States are ... victims of domestic violence. Firing the women is not the answer," Finlay says.

This is a sobering, if not infuriating, case that highlights the fact that there is still much to be done to support and protect domestic violence victims in the United States, and arguably, the world.C