MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) has underscored the distinction between religious morality and public morality when it found St. Scholastica’s College Westgrove (SSCW) guilty of illegally dismissing an employee on the grounds of pre-marital sexual relations and pregnancy out of wedlock.
In a 23-page ruling written by Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes and promulgated on Feb. 17, 2015, the SC’s Third Division reversed a 2009 Court of Appeals (CA) resolution which affirmed the validity of Cheryll Santos Leus’s dismissal by SSCW for “disgraceful or immoral conduct,” which is a just cause for termination of employment under the 1992 Manual of Regulation for Private Schools (MRPS).
The SC said that “when the law refers to morality, it necessarily pertains to public and secular morality and not religious morality… [In] order for a conduct to be considered as disgraceful or immoral, it must be ‘detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions which depend [on] the existence and progress of human society’ and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other.”
Prior to her dismissal as a non-teaching personnel, Leus married the father of her child.
The SC said that even if her indiscretion was against Catholic Church teachings, prevailing norms of conduct do not consider it as disgraceful or immoral.
It said that the right of an employee to security of tenure is constitutionally protected, and a regular employee “may not be dismissed unless for cause under the Labor Code and other laws, in this case, the 1992 MRPS.”
“[T]here is no law which penalizes an unmarried mother by reason of her sexual conduct or proscribes consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons…. Such conduct is not denounced by public and secular morality. It may be an unusual arrangement, but it certainly is not disgraceful or immoral within the contemplation of the law,” the SC ruling said.
The SC said that “pre-marital relations between two consenting adults who have no impediment to marry each other, and consequently conceiving a child out of wedlock, gauged from a purely public and secular view of morality, does not amount to a disgraceful or immoral conduct under Section 94 (e) of the 1992 MRPS.”
As to allegations that her pregnancy caused grave scandal to the school, the SC said, the evidence adduced failed to prove that Leus’ conduct adversely affected SSCW’s integrity in teaching its moral doctrines.
“SSCW, as employer, undeniably has the right to discipline its employees and, if need be, dismiss them if there is a valid cause to do so. However, as already explained, there is no cause to dismiss the petitioner. Her conduct is not considered by law as disgraceful or immoral. Further, the respondents themselves have admitted that SSCW, at the time of the controversy, does not have any policy or rule against an employee who engages in pre-marital sexual relations and conceives a child as a result thereof. There being no valid basis in law or even in SSCW’s policy and rules, SSCW’s dismissal of the petitioner is despotic and arbitrary and thus, not a valid exercise of management prerogative,” the SC ruling said.