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The baby who cost her mom her job

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

It’s said that a baby changes everything. That is never more true than in the case of Piper Joy Lasecki-Webb, born March 3, to parents who staked their reputations and principles on her arrival.

Barb Webb, 34, a gay teacher, was terminated from Marian High School last August when she told the school president she was 14 weeks pregnant. Webb, a popular chemistry teacher for nine years at the all-girls school in Bloomfield Hills, offered to take a leave of absence until after her child was born. She hoped this would comply with a morality clause in teacher contracts that stipulates staff “will not publicly engage in actions” contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Instead, Webb was forced to choose between two evils: She could receive $4,000 worth of health insurance if she resigned quietly, or she would be fired. She chose the latter and was most decidedly not quiet about it.

In the immediate aftermath, Webb said she struggled with suggestions that she take legal action against the school, like filing a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

“I kind of dragged my feet on it,” Webb said from her Clinton Township home early this week. “I wanted to hold the (leadership) accountable, but I worried about how it might negatively impact the students and faculty.”

Giving birth was a turning point.

“Now, I look at Piper and I think: What if someone did that to her?” she said. “It certainly brings a different perspective.”

‘I got a little nauseous’

The baby also brings a sense of urgency for this couple to pave a brighter future for nontraditional families.

“What started with a bad experience has snowballed into what it means for my family now,” said Webb, who married Kristen Lasecki, a certified public accountant, in 2012 in Windsor.

Webb said the new parents are working to promote marriage equality and civil rights for LGBT people.

“Kristen wasn’t able to be named on Piper’s birth certificate,” Webb said. “I’m not able to be on her health insurance. A legally recognized marriage would be a good first step.”

Webb didn’t expect the huge outcry that erupted after she posted on Facebook the details of her dismissal, she said. Supporters quickly organized two back-to-back demonstrations on school grounds, an international protest grew online and a petition signed by more than 70,000 urged the school “to start supporting LGBT staff and students.”

Webb’s initial aim was to have her students know the truth.

“They were told that I left for personal reasons,” she said. “That means I left voluntarily — and I didn’t. I was told I had to go because I was pregnant. This is an all-girls school. I worried about how many of them might face the same kind of discrimination.

“I also wanted to impress upon them that when you have an opportunity to speak up about discrimination — any kind of discrimination — it’s important to do it.”

Not that it was easy for her.

“I remember when that first article came out, I got a little nauseous and swallowed hard,’ she said. “It was like, ‘well, there is no going back now, so I might as well make the best of it.’ ”

Legal action not ruled out

A break in the logjam came in mid-September in the form of a letter from the president of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe. The letter promised that the nuns would work with Marian’s executive committee to “re-examine policies and procedures.” A group of alumni also is working with school leadership directly.

Lasecki was with her every step of the way. “She was my rock,” Webb said.

In the same week as the firing, the couple’s home was hit with major flood damage. A month later, Lasecki had a sudden health scare and underwent emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction.

Now that Lasecki is back in good health and Piper is the only reason they are not getting much sleep at night, the Marian saga seems like a long time ago.

“Time really does heal,” Webb said.

While she is still hoping Marian administrators “will take the opportunity to change on their own,” she said she’s not holding her breath. Nor has she ruled out taking legal means.

After the firing, Webb did two stints of long-term substitute teaching in Novi. “It was a great place for me to get back on my feet,” she said. On her first day, a principal pulled Webb aside and told her: “I want you to feel at home here. We don’t make a habit of discriminating against our employees.”

“From that point on it,” Webb said, “it was never about what happened to me at Marian. It was about my teaching. That’s the way it supposed to be.”