Teacher Fired from Christian School After Revealing She Was Pregnant and Had Conceived Pre-Maritally Raised Triable Issue of Fact and School Waived Ministerial Exemption By Not Raising the Defense in its Brief.
July 10, 2012
Jarretta Hamilton began teaching at Southland Christian School in January of 2008. Sometime in January 2009 she became pregnant. At the time, she had a fiancé, and they decided to marry the following month. In April 2009 Hamilton met with John and Julie Ennis, Southland's administrator and assistant administrator, to inform them of her pregnancy and request maternity leave for the following school year. During that meeting, she admitted to them that she became pregnant before she was married. The following Thursday Hamilton was fired. Allegedly John Ennis had stated there were "consequences for disobeying the word of God."
Hamilton filed a Title VII complaint of pregnancy discrimination. The court granted summary judgment to Southland, holding that Hamilton had not made a
case of discrimination because she had not presented evidence of a non-pregnant comparator who was treated more favorably. Hamilton appealed, claiming that she did make a
case. There is a ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws, but Southland did not present that issue to the court on appeal. The lower court had determined that the exception did not apply and so Southland did not raise the defense in its brief on appeal. The court here noted that Southland could have raised the defense as an alternative basis for affirming the district court's ruling, but as it did not, and did not brief the issue, the court would not consider it. Southland did raise the issue in a notice of supplemental authority three months after its brief was filed, but the court determined that was too little too late.
The court then turned to its analysis under Title VII, which, it noted, certainly does not protect premarital sex, but does protect the right of a woman to become pregnant. The court noted that it used the same type of analysis for this claim as it would for a sex discrimination claim. Hamilton must show that her employer intended to discriminate against her because of her pregnancy. She can show this through direct evidence or indirect evidence, the latter of which is circumstantial. One way of presenting circumstantial evidence is by creating a triable issue of fact concerning the employer's discriminatory intent. Such a triable issue exists if the record, as viewed most favorable to the plaintiff, presents enough evidence to raise a reasonable inference of intentional discrimination.
The court believed that Hamilton did raise such a reasonable inference. The ruling pointed to conversations between Hamilton and the Ennises where it was clear the school was more concerned about her pregnancy and request for maternity leave, and the hardship that meant for the school, than it was about her premarital sex. Ennis testified in his deposition that if she had apologized for her sins against God and the school, they could have worked with her. But Hamilton testified that she had apologized, expressing her regret to the Ennises and her spiritual struggle as a result of this incident. Her testimony directly contradicted that of John Ennis. For that reason and others regarding the conversations around her pregnancy, the court determined that Hamilton had raised an issue of material fact and reversed the summary judgment, allowing Hamilton's claim to proceed.
Hamilton v. Southland Christian School, Inc.
, 680 F.3d 1316 (2012).
California has exemptions under both the Education Code and state discrimination laws for religious schools incorporated as religious organizations. Therefore, in California, a plaintiff in this type of case would not be able to proceed in a state claim against an employer under a FEHA claim. The "ministerial exception" under federal law was upheld by the Supreme Court in January of this year, barring claims when the employer is a religious group and the employee is one of the group's ministers. Under FEHA the exception only applies to schools incorporated as religious organizations.
Workshops & Events
News & Publications
6033 W. Century Blvd., 5th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90045
153 Townsend Street, Suite 520
San Francisco, CA 94107
5250 N. Palm Avenue, Suite 310
Fresno, CA 93704
550 West C Street, Suite 620
San Diego, CA 92101
©2013 Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.
LCW Liebert Cassidy Whitmore
News & Publications
/ Teacher Fired from Christian School...
Business and Facilities
Labor Relations and
Wage and Hour
LCW Annual Conference
To Contact Liebert Cassidy Whitmore:
Los Angeles 310.981.2000 | Fresno 559.256.7800 | San Francisco 415.512.3000 | San Diego 619.481.5900 firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2013 Liebert Cassidy Whitmore