Hospital Aide Fired for Refusing to Clean Abortion Instruments
Valparaiso, Indiana, U.S.A. (1986)
Elaine Tramm was fired despite the fact that Indiana had a protection of
conscience statute. It took three years to win a lawsuit against the
hospital; five months later, a jury awarded her $5,200.00 in compensatory
damages and more than $18,000.00 in punitive damages (Johnson, Elizabeth,
"For Reasons of Conscience", Our Sunday Visitor, 11 November, 1990).
The following excerpt from the judgement of the District Court sets out the
circumstances leading to her dismissal.
Elaine L. Tramm vs. Porter Memorial Hospital et al
United States District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Hammond
Civil No. H 87-355
21 December, 1989
... On November 13, 1986, the plaintiff, Elaine Tramm, was hired by the
Porter Memorial Hospital (PMH) as a part-time Workroom Instruments Aide and
was assigned to the Portage Medical Surgical Center (Center). . . On
December 1, 1986, Tramm began a full-time orientation program . . . The job
description for an aide included cleaning surgical instruments and handling
surgical specimens. Tramm claims that at the time she was hired she was not
aware that abortions were performed at the Center or that the job
description included cleaning abortion instruments. On December 7, 1986,
Tramm learned that the Center was equipped for abortions. Tramm subsequently
informed her supervisors, Leslie O'Toole, Isobel Cardonna, James Pingatore,
and Donald Wadle, that she was a Roman Catholic and that because of her
religious beliefs she was opposed to cleaning and preparing instruments used
in performing abortions or handling fetal tissue after abortion procedures.
On December 12, 1986, Tramm claims that another Aide, Marlene Haller, told
her to clean instruments that had been used in abortion procedures.
According to Tramm, she cleaned the instruments because she was afraid of
losing her job. However, PMH and Haller contend that Tramm voluntarily
cleaned the instruments and that Tramm had been told by another employee,
Patty Munoz, not to handle the specimen containers.
To comply with the Indiana Conscience Statute I.C. 16-10-3-2, PMH
permitted doctors and other hospital employees who would otherwise be
involved in abortion procedures to sign a "Conscience Form" stating their
opposition to abortion. After signing this form, the employee would not be
required to participate in an abortion procedure. Tramm requested that she
be allowed to sign PMH's "Conscience Form", that she not be scheduled to
work when abortions would be performed, that she be allowed to clean
different instruments, or that she be transferred to another job. Cardonna,
Wadle and Pingatore discussed Tramm's views with Malasto, the Administrator
of PMH, and he approved the recommendation that Tramm's employment be
terminated. On December 15, 1986, Tramm met with Pingatore and Wadle and
again informed them of her religious objections to cleaning abortion
instruments. The administrators informed Tramm that she would be fired if
she refused to perform her job duties which included cleaning the abortion
instruments. When Tramm told them she would not clean the abortion
instruments, she was discharged. . . .
. . . .there is no evidence that PMH ever questioned Tramm regarding the
sincerity of her beliefs before terminating her. . . .PMH has not set forth
any facts to dispute the sincerity or genuineness of her beliefs or
activities . . . .
. . . .it is clear that Tramm informed her supervisors about the conflict
once she realized that her employment duties would include cleaning abortion
instruments. . . .Finally, it is clear that Tramm was discharged during the
December 15, 1986 meeting for failing to perform job duties because of her
religious beliefs. Since PMH has presented absolutely no evidence to
challenge the sincerity or genuineness of Tramm's beliefs, it must be
concluded that Tramm's beliefs are sincere, that she informed her
supervisors of those beliefs, and that she was terminated because of them. .