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Florida teacher, fired for premarital sex, has right to a trial, court rules

A teacher at a Christian school, fired in 2009 ostensibly for engaging in premarital sex, can proceed with her lawsuit against the school, a US appeals court ruled Wednesday. She says the real reason she lost her job was pregnancy.

By Staff writer / May 16, 2012

A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a lawsuit filed by a fourth-grade teacher allegedly fired from her job at a Christian elementary school in Florida for engaging in premarital sex.

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A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Jarretta Hamilton’s lawsuit against Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Fla., should proceed to a trial. At issue in the suit is whether the school engaged in pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

School officials maintained that Ms. Hamilton was fired for violating the moral values of the Christian school. More specifically, school officials accused her of engaging in “fornication.”

The issue arose in April 2009 when Hamilton asked school administrators, John and Julie Ennis, for maternity leave. During the conversation, Hamilton acknowledged that the child was conceived in January 2009, three weeks before Hamilton and her then-fiancé were married.

Several days after the conversation, school administrators informed Hamilton that rather than receiving maternity leave, she was being fired because she had sinned by engaging in premarital sex. According to the appeals court, Mr. Ennis told her: “There are consequences for disobeying the word of God.” 

Hamilton hired a lawyer and sued, arguing that the real issue behind her dismissal was the school’s displeasure over her request for maternity leave.

Under Title VII, there is no right to engage in premarital sex. But the civil rights law does protect a right to become pregnant without facing discrimination in the workplace.

Nonetheless, a federal judge in Orlando threw the case out, ruling that Hamilton had failed to show that her treatment was different than any other teachers at the school.

In reversing that decision, appeals court Judge Edward Carnes said there was enough circumstantial evidence to raise a reasonable inference of intentional discrimination by the school.

“Hamilton presented evidence that, in making the decision to fire her, Southland was more concerned about her pregnancy and her request to take maternity leave than about her admission that she had premarital sex,” Judge Carnes wrote. “She testified at deposition that, after she told the Ennises about her pregnancy but before she told them she had conceived before getting married, John Ennis ‘put his head back and he said, we feared something like this would happen.’ “

Hamilton was reportedly told that she would have to take the entire year off because it was difficult for school administrators to replace a teacher on maternity leave after the school year started.


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