U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

No Apologies? Teacher Fired for Pregnancy Can Sue Christian School

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a Florida teacher who was fired after admitting that she became pregnant out of wedlock can bring a pregnancy discrimination claim against her former employer.

Fourth grade teacher Jaretta Hamilton was fired shortly after she told her boss at Southland Christian School that she planned to take maternity leave. While being pregnant was not cause for termination at the school, Southland Principal John Ennis, said that he dismissed Hamilton because "she had sinned by engaging in premarital sex, and "there are consequences for disobeying the word of God."

According to Ennis, the Southland handbook requires employees to serve as Christian role models. While premarital sex is not explicitly prohibited, teachers are urged to avoid putting administrators in the "very difficult situation" of disciplining faculty who don't comply with policy, reports The Associated Press.

Hamilton, however, claimed in her employment discrimination lawsuit that she was fired because of the costs associated with finding a substitute teacher for her while she was on maternity leave. She also argues that Southland engages in gender discrimination because male employees don't have to answer questions about their sexual histories.

Last year, a federal judge ruled against Hamilton, finding that she was not treated differently from other school employees who engaged in premarital sex. This week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her case, concluding, "Hamilton has established a genuine issue of material fact about the reason that Southland fired her. The ultimate issue is one for a jury to decide."

The jury will have several considerations: both whether the school engaged in pregnancy discrimination, and whether Hamilton apologized for having sex before she was married.

Yes, there is a material issue of fact regarding an apology.

The Eleventh Circuit's opinion noted that Ennis said he wouldn't have fired Hamilton if she had apologized for sinning "against the Lord and this school." Hamilton claims, "I went to God in prayer, and my husband and I both together, and asked for forgiveness. And I expressed that to Mr. Ennis."

One issue that won't be raised in court? The ministerial exception defense.

Though Southland tried to argue the Hosanna-Tabor ministerial exception defense late in the appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school had waived the defense by not asserting it earlier, reports Thomson Reuters News & Insight. The court also noted that, even if the school had raised the defense in a timely manner, it would not have classified Jaretta Hamilton as a minister.

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