Leus v. St. Scholastica (G.R. No. 187226; January 28, 2015)


In this very recent cast of Leus vs. St. Scholastica's College, the Supreme Court held that a female teacher working as a non-teaching staff in a sectarian school cannot be dismissed on grounds of premarital sexual relations  even if it resulted in her getting pregnant.

The dispositive portion of the decision is reproduced below:

WHEREFORE, in consideration of the foregoing disquisitions, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated September 24, 2008 and Resolution dated March 2, 2009 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 100188 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

The respondent, St. Scholastica’s College Westgrove, is hereby declared guilty of illegal dismissal and is hereby ORDERED to pay the petitioner, Cheryll Santos Leus, the following: (a) separation pay in lieu of actual reinstatement equivalent to one (1) month pay for every year of service, with a fraction of at least six (6) months considered as one (1) whole year from the time of her dismissal up to the finality of this Decision; (b) full backwages from the time of her illegal dismissal up to the finality of this Decision; and (c) attorney’s fees equivalent to ten percent (10%) of the total monetary award. The monetary awards herein granted shall earn legal interest at the rate of six percent (6%) per annum from the date of the finality of this Decision until fully paid. The case is REMANDED to the Labor Arbiter for the computation of petitioner’s monetary awards.

The Highest Court, in this case, laid down two (2) important doctrines:

(1) Public and secular morality should determine the prevailing norms of conduct, not religious morality.

The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular, not religious x x x. “Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms.” Otherwise, if government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom. Likewise, if government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens. Expansive religious freedom therefore requires that government be neutral in matters of religion; governmental reliance upon religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.In other words, government action, including its proscription of immorality as expressed in criminal law like concubinage, must have a secular purpose. That is, the government proscribes this conduct because it is “detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society” and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other. Although admittedly, moral judgments based on religion might have a compelling influence on those engaged in public deliberations over what actions would be considered a moral disapprobation punishable by law. After all, they might also be adherents of a religion and thus have religious opinions and moral codes with a compelling influence on them; the human mind endeavors to regulate the temporal and spiritual institutions of society in a uniform manner, harmonizing earth with heaven. Succinctly put, a law could be religious or Kantian or Aquinian or utilitarian in its deepest roots, but it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses. xxx.

(2) The petitioner’s pregnancy out of wedlock is not a disgraceful or immoral conduct since she and the father of her child have no impediment to marry each other.

In stark contrast to Santos, the Court does not find any circumstance in this case which would lead the Court to conclude that the petitioner committed a disgraceful or immoral conduct. It bears stressing that the petitioner and her boyfriend, at the time they conceived a child, had no legal impediment to marry. Indeed, even prior to her dismissal, the petitioner married her boyfriend, the father of her child. As the Court held in Radam, there is no law which penalizes an unmarried mother by reason of her sexual conduct or proscribes the consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons; that neither does such situation contravene any fundamental state policy enshrined in the Constitution.

Admittedly, the petitioner is employed in an educational institution where the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church, including that on pre-marital sexual relations, is strictly upheld and taught to the students. That her indiscretion, which resulted in her pregnancy out of wedlock, is anathema to the doctrines of the Catholic Church. However, viewed against the prevailing norms of conduct, the petitioner’s conduct cannot be considered as disgraceful or immoral; 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.

To stress, pre-marital sexual 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.

Accordingly, the labor tribunals erred in upholding the validity of the petitioner’s dismissal. The labor tribunals arbitrarily relied solely on the circumstances surrounding the petitioner’s pregnancy and its supposed effect on SSCW and its students without evaluating whether the petitioner’s conduct is indeed considered disgraceful or immoral in view of the prevailing norms of conduct. In this regard, the labor tribunals’ respective haphazard evaluation of the evidence amounts to grave abuse of discretion, which the Court will rectify.

The labor tribunals’ finding that the petitioner’s pregnancy out of wedlock despite the absence of substantial evidence is not only arbitrary, but a grave abuse of discretion, which should have been set right by the CA.