"If they're going to single her out because she conceived prior to marriage, but allow people to remain employed who conceived during a marriage, isn't that discriminating against her based on her marital status?"

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Someone's been absorbing the ACLU approach to law.
But I'm guessing she/her lawyer may have a case if the school's documents aren't clear on the moral requirements of teachers and the religious nature of that requirement... or if they've been inconsistent on that point in the past.

Dan Burrell's picture

Florida is an "at will" employment state. All the administration had to do was call her in and dismiss her and they should not have given her a reason. If they did that, they are on fine legal ground. If the school is affiliated (owned and/or operated by) with a church, they should be OK as this is a clear separation of Church/State issue unless they didn't follow their own published due-process procedures (which is why you should not publish due process procedures in Florida). If they had a moral turpitude clause in the contract or in the employee handbook, they should be fine. I don't know whether the school is accredited or not, but if they were, they would have had all those documents reviewed to help them in protecting themselves. (I used to be the President of the largest Christian school accrediting association in FL.) I suspect that this is a non-case and a non-issue picked up by the media as they are want to do this time of the year. Usually their stories (predictably launched each May/June) deal with a student who got suspended or expelled from a Christian school and does not get to march or graduate. It's an annual media tradition.

Smart Christian school administrators pay attention to these kinds of details as it has been my experience that even the most devoutly Christian teacher will sue your brains out the moment that it would seem to be of benefit to them.

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

Jack's picture

Though Florida is an at will state, a plaintiff can still bring suit (and prevail). At will employment allows an employer or employee to terminate the employment relationship at any time for good reason, bad reason, or no reason. But, employment still may not be terminated for an illegal reason. If suit was brought, the employer would have to offer their reason for termination (to refute the employee's claim that it was an illegal reason). Assuming the school in this case would not lie about the reason, they would be in precisely the same position: defending their decision as a legal termination.

That's not to say that it is always a good idea to give a reason for termination. Just that no reason would have gained the school little legal advantage in this case.

Dan Burrell's picture

Saw an interview with the teacher's slimy attorney and the school may have a couple of problems if what he said was accurate. First, it is an independent Christian school and thus not protected by the separation umbrella a church -owned/operated school has. Secondly, there was not a contract in place that delineated or referenced the school policy. Apparently, the faculty handbook may have been vague as well. If the school happened to accept any federal funds (which more and more are now doing), it may have fully placed itself at risk.

Which brings up a question, Jack.....do you know if a school that receives no federal funds is liable under federal laws? Years ago, that was one of the reasons why we were always told never to accept any form of government assistance -- no matter how innocuous it may have appeared to be.

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

Jack's picture

The application of the establishment and free exercise clauses is a pretty complex - and not clearly consistent - area of the law. A really good, and I think fairly accessible, book on point is The Rhetoric of Church and State: A Critical Analysis of Religion Clause Jurisprudence by Frederick Mark Gedicks. The answer to Dan's question is an unsatisfying "it depends." The Court (and the courts) have addressed a large number of specifics from transporting religious school students on public school buses to vouchers. Broadly speaking, direct payments to schools are more problematic. Providing materials is usually problematic (e.g., textbooks, even if they do not include religious instruction). Providing something more like a direct benefit to the student that is common to all other students (e.g., busing) is least problematic.

Stepping back a bit, a school will typically be subject to federal law whether or not they receive federal funds (or other benefit). The Court held in Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith that a law prohibiting the use of certain drugs, including the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies, was a valid generally applicable law. However, this general rule is complicated in the case above and similar cases by freedom of association and other concerns. To the best of my knowledge, a school's lack of church affiliation should not be an insurmountable hurdle to their defense. Though lack of clarity in their beliefs regarding fornication, or inconsistent practice in cases of known fornication by teachers would be damaging.

Just a guess, but I would think her privacy claim is the strongest. Outside of an established church discipline framework, such communications are asking for trouble. Though this will turn on Florida's privacy statute, if any.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jack, thanks for your perspective... you sound well informed on the subject. Are you a lawyer?

Jack's picture

I am a lawyer, though I don't practice in the constitutional or employment fields. My wife, an attorney whose practice is closer to the issues in this case, reminded me that I failed to mention RFRA. Though declared unconstitutional where state and local laws are concerned, it may provide the school some protection if the claims brought against it were federal claims (e.g., Title VII). Even if the plaintiff's claims are based on state law, they may have protection under a state law similar to RFRA - I didn't check to see whether Florida has passed such a law. Adding this only to be a little more complete and further demonstrate the complexity of this area of the law.

Ann B.'s picture

Just saw an ad on TV that this woman and her husband are going to be interviewed Monday morning on the Today show on NBC.