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New law protects domestic violence victims' jobs

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Courtesy ABC News

After Carie Charlesworth was dismissed from her teaching job due to security concerns about her estranged husband, the California mother championed legislation to make sure no one would ever have the same experience.

On Friday, she got her wish when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure into law to protect victims of domestic violence from losing their jobs and workplace discrimination.

"I'm very excited that it passed," Charlesworth told ABCNews.com. "It's a huge step forward for victims and survivors of domestic violence. Victims need to know there are people out there to help them and support them."

The new legislation will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Charlesworth said she was put on leave from her position as a second-grade teacher at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon, Calif., in January after her ex-husband, Martin Charlesworth, 41, showed up that month in the school parking lot, prompting a campus lockdown until police arrived.

The couple divorced two years ago and Charlesworth said she got a restraining order against her ex-husband because he had been physically abusive. She said she also made her principal aware of the situation.

In April, on diocese letterhead, she received a notice that said the "unfortunate and challenging situation" created by her ex-husband would result in her contract not being renewed for the upcoming school year.

"In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese," school officials wrote. "Therefore, you will not receive a teaching agreement for the 2013-2014 school year."

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, had already introduced the legislation when Charlesworth joined her to push for reform.

Jackson said the new law "protects victims from job loss and discrimination at a time when they most need support and a steady paycheck."

"Victims will no longer fear losing their livelihoods and being re-victimized in the workplace because of the actions of their abusers. They will no longer fear retribution if they talk about these issues with an employer. And we will no longer send the mistaken message to employees that silence about these issues in the workplace is the same as safety," Jackson said in a statement.

Without the protection in place, Jackson said victims will stay silent out of fear of being fired from their jobs. She cited a recent study by the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center, which found that nearly 40 percent of victims in California reported either being fired or feared losing their jobs due to domestic violence.

For Charlesworth, her job was more than just a paycheck. It was also her "safe place."

"It was my stability and a place I knew I could go to where I knew I wouldn't be distracted about what was going on outside of work," she said.

In September, Charlesworth filed a lawsuit against the diocese contesting her dismissal. She said the diocese hasn't been served yet with legal papers.

Diocese officials could not be reached for comment today, but in a statement issued to the San Diego Union-Tribune last week, diocese officials said they are "confident that when the court is able to review the decision, the protection and safety of children will be understood as the only path the school could have taken."

Charlesworth said she has since placed her children in public school. She's also taking some pre-requisite classes and hopes to apply to a nursing program if she can get grants or scholarships.

"Financially I'm hoping it's an option," she said. "But it's hard to go back to school with four kids."

Read on ABC News

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