Oct. 11 (UPI) -- A nurse who says she was turned down for a teaching job at Indiana University South Bend because she opposes abortion is fighting to keep her lawsuit alive.
Cynthia Isabell, who applied for a position as an instructor in obstetrics, says she was not hired because of "viewpoint discrimination" by the faculty member leading the search committee even though abortion had nothing to do with the job.
Attorneys for the university -- who have filed a motion asking a federal judge to toss the case -- counter that the successful candidate was hired because she had more relevant experience and qualifications and received far superior evaluations during the application process. The attorneys also say Isabell has failed to show that her anti-abortion viewpoint "in any way" motivated a recommendation that she not be selected.
Isabell's attorneys recently filed a brief arguing there is enough circumstantial evidence to take the case to trial.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the nonprofit American Center for Law & Justice in Washington, D.C., which represents Isabell, said in a news release the First Amendment prohibits government agencies and agents from retaliating against people for expressing their views and "for 'being' anything, including 'being pro-life.'"
Isabell, who has a doctorate in nursing and education, applied in 2017 for a full-time position as a clinical assistant professor teaching obstetrics at IUSB. She has worked as a staff nurse, primarily in obstetrics, since 1980 and worked as an adjunct clinical instructor at several institutions since 1998, according to her lawsuit.
During her interview, Assistant Dean of Nursing Teresa Dobrzykowski, who led the search committee, asked her how she would discuss controversial topics with her students and how she would use science in those talks, Isabell says in the suit.
A member of the search committee concluded that Dobrzykowski was talking about abortion and said at the interview that the job had nothing to do with abortion, the suit says. In addition, another member later filed a complaint with IUSB's Affirmative Action Office over Dobrzykowski's handling of the interview, a brief filed in the case says.
The complaint said Dobrzykowski's "inappropriate question" has "made us legally vulnerable," the brief says.
Based on the line of questioning by Dobrzykowski, Isabell also believed the assistant dean was aware of an online article she had written the previous year, "How a Formerly Pro-Choice Nursing Instructor Discusses Abortion with her Students."
In the piece, Isabell says she opposes abortion and that students assume her stance is based on religion. Instead, she explains, her position is based on anatomy and physiology, as well as logical reasoning, according to her article.
"My students often ask me what my opinion is regarding abortion. 'Are you pro-life or pro-choice?' they ask me. I do not ask them the same, as I don't want them to fear that their position might affect how I grade them," Isabell writes.
When Isabell was passed over for the instructor job, Dobrzykowski cited Isabell's lack of teaching experience, the suit says. But the brief filed by Isabell's lawyers alleges that was a pretext by the assistant dean, who they say has nearly 30 years of clinical appointments "with the country's largest abortion provider -- Planned Parenthood."
Isabell's suit, filed last year in U.S. District Court in South Bend, alleges Dobrzykowsi violated her First Amendment right to free speech by retaliating against her for her viewpoint on abortion and that the university violated her rights under the Indiana Conscience Statute, which says that no hospital or person shall discriminate against or discipline someone because of that person's moral beliefs concerning abortion.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money and an injunction ordering IUSB to post notices regarding federal and Indiana healthcare conscience laws and associated anti-discrimination statutes online and in its facilities and distribute the information to its employees and job applicants.
Dobrzykowski did not respond to an email from UPI seeking comment. IUSB attorneys say the university and assistant dean did nothing wrong.
Although Dobrzykowski recommended the other candidate for the job, she did not make the ultimate hiring decision, the attorneys say in a brief. They describe Isabell's claims -- including that Dobrzykowski is pro-choice and knew about the article because of a single question she asked -- as "pure speculation."
"Contrary to Dr. Isabell's 'assumption,' it is undisputed that Dr. Dobrzykowski is pro-life and that, although she did work at Planned Parenthood on and off over several years, the Planned Parenthood clinics at which she actually worked did not (and do not) perform abortions," they wrote in a brief.
The brief also says Dobrzykowski has testified that she frequently asks the same question -- "How would you discuss controversial topics, healthcare controversial topics, and introduce them to students in a teaching manner" -- during interviews with job candidates.
Faculty members who attended a mock teaching presentation for both finalists for the job made many negative comments about Isabell's performance and overwhelmingly positive comments about the candidate who was hired, the brief says.
The case is scheduled to go to trial next year.