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Apr 30, 2004

Teacher wins Supreme Court case

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It was a controversial case: a Punta Gorda teacher filing suit against the management of Catholic Schools because she was dismissed from her job in June of last year when her boss discovered she was pregnant and not planning to get married. Although her case was not unique, it was the first time anyone had ever taken the matter to the Supreme Court, or taken on the Catholic school system so publicly. Today, Maria Roches was rewarded for her stance, and although she was not in the court today due to a miscommunication with her lawyers, there were plenty of her supporters hanging on the Chief Justice’s every word, all one and half hours worth. A very jubilant Silvana Woods spoke to News 5 today just minutes after the case ended.

Silvana Woods, Supporter

“This is something that going to that is going to reverberate through the entire region, that?s a plus for gender equality, and that makes people like Dolores Balderamos Garcia and every single person in the Women?s Department who has been pushing the issue of gender equality feel vindicated.”

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

This morning Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh ruled that the Managing Authority of Catholic Public Schools must pay teacher Maria Roches one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in damages. In declaring his ruling, Conteh stated that the Managing Authority of Catholic Public Schools refusal to reinstate 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 constitutes an infringement of Roches’ right to work as provided for under section 15 (1) of the Constitution. Roches was not present in the courtroom, but one of her staunch supporters, Silvana Woods, an educator herself, was pleased with the verdict. Woods says the ruling is not only a victory for teacher Roches, but all Belizean women.

Silvana Woods

“The teacher’s rights were constitutionally violated because Belize is a signatory to the U.N. convention on the rights, that the policy that the church has, the church-school has that if you are pregnant and unmarried that you cannot go back to teach, that that is in fact inherently discriminatory because men?s stomachs cannot get distended in pregnancy, so you cannot treat unlike bodies alike. I think we?ve got a brilliant Chief Justice; he took an hour and a half to go through that judgment. I don?t know what happens with appeal or so, but I can?t see how anybody could win that because it was so clear cut. All kinds of references were made to other precedents that have been set. This is where the world is at now.”

“No disrespect to the churches, and in fact I am trying to find my way back fully to the church, and I have great respect for the church and its teachings. But in terms of discriminating against women, in terms of living up to the times, I can love my God whether or not I am married… This is a day of triumph for every single woman teacher and every single woman in the entire country and in the entire region this is precedent setting.”

Maria Roches told News 5 this afternoon that she deeply regretted not being in the court this morning because this judgment was something she had been waiting for. She says she is ecstatic, and believed from the very beginning that she would win because she knew she had been treated unfairly. Roches stands by her assertion that the management forged her signature on the contract they entered as evidence and says it is, “sad that they lied on the stand like that.” Roches says she is astonished at the damage award, but believes such a large sum of money is sending a very clear message to all Catholic schools to “stop this nonsense.” She says she has no intention of trying to get her old job back and will seek employment elsewhere. She wanted to thank all her supporters, friends and family for standing by her and her seven month old son. Maria Roches was represented in court by Dean Barrow and Magali Marin.

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