Editorial: A question of morality


The Oakland Post

For most, announcing a pregnancy is a joyous occasion, met with congratulations and celebration. For Barbara Webb, a now former science teacher at Marian High School, however, a July pregnancy announcement resulted in the choice to leave quietly or be fired from her job of nine years. 

Webb, 33, was a teacher at the all-girls Catholic West Bloomfield high school on summer vacation when she announced her non-traditional pregnancy with her same-sex partner to the school’s administration. Marian High School officials quickly let the teacher go in August, presenting her with the options to be fired or resign with health benefits through the spring, assuming she did not speak of her termination or reason for leaving. Webb chose to speak up, taking to social media to voice her story, and was officially terminated from Marian as of Aug. 19. 

While Marian administration has declined to comment on the issue, Webb told the Detroit Free Press on Sept. 6 that “administrators pointed to a morality clause allowing firing over public conduct of ‘lifestyle or actions directly contradictory to the Catholic faith.’”

“I had Barb for chemistry and learned a lot. She did a lot of hands-on stuff that you don’t see in classrooms as much anymore,” said 2009 Marian graduate and OU nursing senior Meghan McDermott. “It’s discriminatory. It’s wrong.”

Discriminatory? Yes. Wrong? Yes. Legal? Yes.

The current Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, established in 1976, prevents job discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status, but those in or suspected to be a part of the LGBTQIA community through their gender identity are unprotected in the eyes of the law in many parts of Michigan. 

Simply because her employers deemed Webb’s means of becoming pregnant “unnatural,” she was out her job, and Marian students out a valued teacher.

“If she’s doing her job well, that should be all that matters, and we would hope that’s all that matters, but this is happening all the time,” said Grace Wojcik, Coordinator of OU’s Gender and Sexuality Center.

“Some people, even in the LGBTQIA community, don’t understand that it’s still legal to be fired, denied employment, public accomodations such as restaurants, housing and rental properties today,” she said.  “It’s not just if you’re LGBT; it’s if someone thinks you are. I’d like to think we’re better than that. “

However, thanks to the efforts of the OU LGBTQIA employee resource group, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and a “grassroots student and faculty movement,” according to Wojcik, this is not the case on Oakland University’s campus. 

“We have an anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Wojcik. Enacted nearly a decade ago, the policy protects OU faculty from facing the same foul fate as Webb.

The Oakland Post would like to commend Oakland University on staying a step ahead of state legislation by protecting the rights of LGBTQIA faculty on campus and for spreading the message of diversity and inclusion of all underrepresented groups, rather than seclusion and intolerance.

“You wonder what kind of message [Webb’s firing] sends to LGBT students already struggling with their identity,” said McDermott. 

“They let her go because of a moral clause, but it makes you wonder how moral it is.”