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Church Fires Unwed, Pregnant Woman for Violating Moral Code

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on January 16, 2015 10:45 AM

An unwed, pregnant Virginia woman was fired from her job at a church daycare after failing to marry her live-in fiance.

Apryl Kellam said she received a phone call Monday informing her that she was being fired for violating church policy, Richmond's WTVR-TV reports. Church officials had reportedly warned Kellam for several months that she needed to marry her fiance and father of her unborn child, James Coalson, in order to comply with the church's moral code of conduct for employees. Kellam and Coalson live together and both have children from prior relationships.

The couple said they are considering legal action against the church. Do they have a case?

Religious Employment Discrimination

Under federal law, an employer generally may not discriminate against an employee for religious reasons. However, the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes an exemption for religious employers, including religious educational institutions, that may in some circumstances allow discrimination that would otherwise be prohibited.

According to the church, employees are required to sign-off on an employee handbook at the time they are hired that clearly states the church's moral code of conduct, based upon the church's Christian teachings. "We're not trying to be hurtful, we're just following our personnel handbook which is rooted in our statement of faith and our biblical beliefs," the church's pastor told WTVR about Kellam's termination.

Gender Discrimination

Kellam could potentially be able to argue discrimination on other grounds, such as gender discrimination. Federal employment discrimination law includes discrimination based on pregnancy in the prohibition on gender discrimination. Virginia's Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, and other related medical conditions.

Kellam claims that she never received or signed the employee handbook and was unaware of the church's policy when she was hired. If she does pursue legal action, that could be a key factor in her case.

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