|Title||Moral Problems of School Emloyees - Parts 1-2 (with some forms) - 2018|
|Preview||Moral Problems of School Employees|
Moral Problems of School Employees - Part I
As our culture continues its slide into moral ambiguity, Christian school administrators and board members must be prepared to continue to uphold a high moral tone for their schools and employees. One way schools have attempted to accomplish this goal has been requiring that their employees be "Christian role models" that live by a Christian moral standard. Yet an increasing number of schools are reporting pregnant out-of-wedlock situations. Sometimes there are surprising results when Christian schools take a stand and dismiss the erring employee(s). Are there some things that administrators and schools can do to be more proactive on moral issues and be better prepared to handle a pregnant out-of-wedlock situation if it occurs? Consider the basic facts of three court cases explained below. They are followed by some lessons we can learn from them.
Andrea Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis, Inc.
Harding Academy is a large school located on several campuses in Memphis, Tennessee. It is affiliated with the Church of Christ. All its teachers are required to be Christians, and preference is given to denomination members when hiring. A pregnant out-of-wedlock preschool teacher, Andrea Boyd, was dismissed by the school about thirteen months after she began employment there. She sued the school, alleging that she was discharged because of her unwed pregnancy and that her discharge constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She sought reinstatement as a regular employee with retroactive seniority rights, sick leave, vacation pay, and all other benefits she would have received if she hadn't been discharged. The Academy contended that it legally terminated Boyd because of her violation of the New Testament's prohibition of premarital sex.
Findings of Fact: (1) Boyd testified that she was never told that she would be terminated if she engaged in sex outside of marriage. However, the faculty handbook, given to her at the time she was hired, reads: "Christian character, as well as professional ability, is the basis for hiring teachers at Harding Academy. Each teacher at Harding is expected in all actions to be a Christian example for the students."
(2) When the preschool director was told by her assistant that Boyd might be pregnant, she consulted with Dr. Bowie, the president and chief executive officer of Harding Academy. Dr. Bowie testified that he planned to terminate Boyd if it was verified that she was pregnant and unmarried, not because of the pregnancy per se but because the facts would indicate that she engaged in sex outside of marriage.
(3) When the preschool director and her assistant met with Boyd, she admitted that she was pregnant. Boyd was then informed that she would be terminated but would be eligible for reemployment if she were to marry the father of the child. During this meeting the preschool director used words to the effect that Boyd was being terminated because she was "pregnant and unwed." Boyd later relied on these words in support of her allegations that her dismissal (because of pregnancy) constituted impermissible gender discrimination.
(4) Testimony indicated that the preschool director did not have authority to dismiss any employee; only Dr. Bowie had such authority. Testimony showed that over a period of many years, Dr. Bowie had fired both men and women for engaging in sex outside of marriage, whether or not pregnancy resulted from the sexual conduct, when such conduct was made known to him. Dr. Bowie had fired a man for living with a woman who was not his wife. One of the school's principals was fired, after 20 years of service, for sexual immorality. An elementary teacher was fired for involvement with a man to whom she was not married, though she did not become pregnant. Another woman was terminated after becoming pregnant while unwed but was subsequently rehired when she married the father of the child. Dr. Bowie testified that this option was given so that a person may "correct," as much as possible, the "wrong" that had occurred.
(5) Testimony revealed that earlier, Andrea Boyd informed her preschool director that she had had a miscarriage, but the preschool director failed to inform any of her supervisors or anyone in the Harding Academy administration about Boyd's sexual conduct and the resulting miscarriage. Boyd later used this fact to try to prove that the preschool director informed the administration only about pregnancies out-of-wedlock, not sexual activity outside of marriage, which was the supposed "religious policy or prohibition" allowable to religious employers under Section 2000e-1 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This is the section of Title VII that allows a religious employer to make employment decisions upon a religious basis or criteria. (See May 1996 issue of this newsletter for a detailed article explaining this Title VII exemption for religious employers. It is also found in the appendix of the 1997 edition of ACSI's Personnel Forms Resource Packet.) Dr. Bowie testified that he would have terminated Boyd for sex outside of marriage if he had been informed of this earlier incident.
(6) During testimony Boyd asserted that the preschool director knew or should have known that other preschool employees were engaging in sex outside of marriage and that she did not act upon this knowledge. The Director and her assistant testified that they did not know of this improper conduct by others until Boyd's deposition in the case.
(7) Evidence was clearly presented that married women employees were not terminated for pregnancy and had returned to work at Harding Academy after their maternity leaves.
Court Ruling: The U.S. District Court ruled in favor of Harding Academy. The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which also found no violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when Harding Academy terminated Andrea Boyd. (Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis Inc., CA 6, No. 95-5945, 7/9/96).
Janelle Vigars v. Valley Christian Center of Dublin, California, Valley Christian Schools
Janelle Vigars sent her children to Valley Christian Schools. Each year, when she re-enrolled them, she signed an affirmation agreement in which she agreed that she and her children would be bound by the moral values, codes, doctrines, and beliefs of her church. When she became a school employee, she received a "handbook" and "manual" that detailed the school's and church's mission and her role in that mission as mentor and role model. The materials stressed that employees of the school were required to be "born-again" and live a life in conformity with the fundamentalist beliefs of the church. Vigars had daily contact with students primarily as a librarian, but she also worked at times in the school as a physical education instructor, a teacher's aide, and a child care worker.
Findings of Fact: (1) While in the process of annulling her marriage, Vigars became pregnant. The father was the man she was about to marry. The school fired Vigars.
(2) The school's termination letter stated that the reason for her termination was the fact that she was "pregnant without benefit of marriage," which condition was inconsistent with the religious values of the church and school. Vigars sued the school in the U.S. District Court under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 for discrimination on account of sex.
(3) Vigars also sued the school for breach of contract under California law. The school initially conceded that Vigars had a year to year employment contract with the school. Both parties acknowledged that there was no written employment contract. The school later indicated that Vigars' contract was not for a specified time and therefore it was terminable "at will."
(4) The school's attorneys brought a motion for summary judgment-that is, a motion which said (a) that there were no substantial issues of material fact for the court to resolve, (b) that the school was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, (c) hence no trial was needed and the court should simply rule in the school's favor. In this motion, the school changed its position as to the reason for firing her, saying now that her adultery was its reason for termination.
Court Ruling: The court denied the motion for summary judgment, holding that there was a material issue of fact in dispute. That was the question of whether the school fired Vigars because of the adultery or because of her pregnancy. The court indicated that, had the true ground been adultery, that would have been a religious reason for discharging her, and she would have had no valid claim. However, the court indicated that the original ground given for discharge-namely, pregnancy,--is not protected under Title VII's exemption for religious employers-that the law against pregnancy discrimination was a law of general applicability that applied to all employers. It turned out that the denial of the school's motion ended the case. It could then have gone to trial, but the school decided that it would be less burdensome to settle the case by paying Vigars a settlement of $30,000. The school did not reinstate her.
Michelle Ganzy v. Allen Christian School
Michelle Ganzy, an unmarried math teacher, worked at the church-affiliated Allen Christian School for less than a year before her employer discovered her pregnancy after noticing graffiti depicting the pregnant teacher in the boys' bathroom. Because church tenets forbade premarital sex, the school fired her, reasoning that she would be a poor role model for the spiritual values that the school wished to instill in its students. Ganzy refused an offer by the school's educational director to help her find work at a company associated with the church. She also refused the school's offer to return to her teaching job after she gave birth.
Findings of Fact: (1) Ganzy indicated that she had no notice of Allen's policy forbidding premarital sex. She said she was told that she "was terminated due to the fact she was pregnant and unmarried and therefore a bad role model."
(2) The school argued that premarital chastity, while not an expressed employment policy, is implied by theological teachings, and Ganzy agreed to abide by such teachings when she acknowledged on her job application that her "temperament and lifestyle are in accordance with the will of God and the Holy Scripture." The school denied that it fired Ganzy because she was pregnant. Instead, it insisted that she was fired because she was sexually active and unmarried.
(3) Ganzy argued that the school's position that she was fired for premarital sex in violation of church beliefs was a pretext for discrimination on the basis of her pregnancy, not her mere sexual activity, as evidenced by the fact that the school re-offered her the teaching job after her pregnancy had ended.
(4) The school argued that its religious doctrine forbidding premarital sex shielded it from judicial scrutiny and asked the judge for summary judgment to dismiss the court case.
Court Ruling: The court refused to dismiss the case, saying that the school may be liable for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case will now proceed to trial to determine whether Ganzy was fired because she was pregnant or because she was sexually active and unmarried. At publication time the outcome of the case had not been determined.
What Lessons Can Be Learned From These Cases?
(1) Christian role model requirements should be more specific. All three schools cited above had very general "role model" statements in their employment materials. For instance, Allen Christian School required its employees to have "temperament and lifestyle . . . in accordance with the will of God and the Holy Scripture." In depositions, the school administration indicated that premarital chastity, while not an expressed employment policy, is implied by theological teachings. While it is reasonable to think that an employee of a Christian school should know that premarital sex is wrong and would bring termination, it is important to clearly indicate in personnel materials that heterosexual activity outside of marriage and all homosexual activity are prohibited by biblical teachings and participation in such sexual activities subjects an employee to dismissal.
Role model statements that seemed to be adequate in past years no longer adequately protect the schools to the degree needed in today's cultural and legal climate. The statements must be more specific. The statement in an employee contract and/or in the employment materials (e.g., employee handbook) should clearly indicate what types of prohibited sexual activity would bring termination of employment. Here's a sample of such wording:
Cause for termination and dismissal may include, but is not limited to, any one or more of the following: homosexuality, heterosexual activity outside of marriage, intemperance, abuse of a student, absent without notification, and/or approval for 3 school days (abandonment of position), neglect of duty, scriptural error, or any conduct tending to bring discredit upon the school or upon the teacher that causes a diminishing of his/her effectiveness as a Christian role model for the students of Christian School.
Note that the phrase, "but is not limited to," is a key phrase when designing your own termination policy paragraph. Be sure to include it!
(2) Link key personnel policies, especially hiring and dismissal policies, to scriptural context and references. List the scriptural references in your personnel materials and on your forms.
In two of the cases, the judges indicated that if the teachers were dismissed for sexual activity outside of marriage in violation of Christian teaching, the terminations were probably valid, but termination for "pregnancy" could be grounds for a successful discrimination claim against the school. Why? Aren't we talking about the same thing? Not in today's legal climate.
Note how the word "pregnancy" or words "pregnant out-of-wedlock" created problems for all three schools in the cases cited above. Congress amended Title VII in 1978 by enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which expressly prohibits employers from discriminating against women on the basis of pregnancy. Firing a person for being "pregnant" is illegal. Firing a person for being "sexually active outside of marriage" is legal if it is based on the religious employment requirements of a religious employer and the employer has clearly established the prohibition as a "religious issue" in the employment materials. Bottom Line: Do not use the word "pregnant" in oral conversations or in a dismissal letter in pregnant out-of-wedlock situations. Be sure that all of your supervisory personnel are aware of the correct way to communicate with pregnant out-of-wedlock employees!
(3) Have employees sign a form acknowledging the receipt of your employee handbook. Both Boyd and Ganzy claimed that they had "no notice" or didn't know about policies forbidding premarital sex. Even if your school has precise Christian role model wording, how can you help your attorney prove, if necessary, that an employee "had notice" regarding the school's various policies? Have a form that employees must sign to acknowledge that they have received and read a copy of the school's employee handbook and that they are in agreement with its provisions.
Be sure that signing the form is not just a perfunctory function done at the same time the handbook is issued to the teacher or employee. Insist that the person take the handbook home and read it before you accept the signed form back for filing in their personnel file. Give a reasonable time limit for the return of the form. Monitor your personnel files to make sure that all forms are returned and are on file before the school year begins.
(4) Don't offer to rehire a teacher that "marries the father" or rehire a teacher after she has had the child. Such actions "muddy the water" and leave the school in jeopardy. Remember Ganzy's allegation? She alleged that the school's position that she was fired for premarital sex in violation of church beliefs was a pretext for discrimination on the basis of her pregnancy, not her mere sexual activity, as evidenced by the fact that the school re-offered her the teaching job after her pregnancy had ended. If premarital sex is wrong and damages the school's Christian role model expectations, doesn't requiring marriage to the child's father to keep a position or rehiring the teacher after the child's delivery lead to "situation ethics" that blur biblical teaching? It looks as though the school is concerned only about "pregnancy" and not the underlying "immorality." What happened to the "consequences" for immorality? Of course, if a person has a repentant attitude, seeks a process of biblical restoration, and is held accountable for a reasonable period (1-2 years?) of time, he/she could be considered once again for employment.
(5) Follow your school personnel policies consistently. This helped save the day for Harding Academy. Even though a preschool director failed to report Boyd's miscarriage to the administration and later used incorrect wording (pregnancy) when meeting with Boyd, the school's history of dismissing employees, both married and unmarried, for sexual activity outside of marriage, whether it resulted in pregnancy or not, clearly showed to the court the school's consistency in enforcing its religiously-based policy. Making exceptions to policy or failing to follow policy plays right into the hands of the plaintiff's attorneys. The fact that the preschool director, who made several serious mistakes in personnel procedure, did not have authority to terminate employees also helped in the Harding case.
(6) Have written employment contracts for salaried workers. It appears that Janelle Vigars did not have a written employment contract at Valley Christian Schools. This later became an issue in the dispute when neither side could agree on the terms of employment. In today's legal climate it is imperative to have written employment materials, such as employee handbooks and contracts for salaried workers.
(7) Always consult an attorney before terminating an employee or not renewing a contract. There is no indication in the above cases that an attorney was consulted prior to the employees' being dismissed. However, in today's legal climate it is imperative for schools to make that a routine practice. Ask advice concerning what to do and not do during the process. Is there a basis for progressive discipline? Should a certain sequence of events be followed? What should be said or written to the individual? What should be put in the personnel file? What should or should not be said to prospective employers asking for references? Trying to save a few dollars by not talking with an attorney could cost your school thousands of dollars later during a wrongful termination lawsuit.
(8) It's O.K. to settle a dispute out-of-court for monetary damages. If you are having trouble resolving a "prickly" personnel issue, consider settling the issue by paying off the person's contract. As Christians, we are strongly wedded to principles that direct our lives and work ethics. A school board may feel completely justified in standing on principle in a personnel challenge. If the school policies are clear, the administrator and board followed proper and consistent personnel procedures, and the whole process was properly documented at each step, the school might have the basis for fighting the issue if a lawsuit is filed against it in a personnel matter. If any one of the three steps is deficient, and/or it's near the end of the school year, it might be less expensive in the long run to simply agree to pay off the person's contract. This is an issue that must be carefully discussed with the school's attorney. Ask what your options are and the cost and reasonableness of each option.
In the Valley Christian School case, the school appears to have made several strategic mistakes that potentially left it at a legal disadvantage. It could easily have cost the school more than $30,000 in attorney fees to fight the case, and if they lost, damages against the school could have been for a much higher figure in addition to the attorney fees. It was probably prudent in that case for the school to settle. The settlement was paid by the school's insurance carrier.
This article was written by Burt Carney, ACSI Director for Legal/Legislative Issues. It was reviewed for legal accuracy by Attorney John Cooley, Roanoke, VA.
While numerous articles and other materials were reviewed in the preparation of this article, those listed below were particularly helpful and were quoted from extensively:
Valley Christian Schools Case
Allen Christian School Case BNA's Employment Discrimination Report, Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 2-18-98 Memo 2/23/98 - Attorney John L. Cooley, Wooten & Hart, Roanoke, VA
Moral Problems of School Employees - Part II
Lessons from Court Cases Regarding Moral Problems of School Employees
As our culture continues its slide into moral ambiguity, Christian school administrators and board members must be prepared to continue to uphold a high moral tone for their schools and employees. Consider the basic facts of the court cases explained below. They are followed by some lessons that we can learn from them.
Dolter v. Wahlert High School
Prior to February 1978, Susan Dolter, a single woman, was employed as an English teacher at a Catholic high school. In February, she informed the school administration that she was pregnant. Then in March, both parties entered into a renewal of contract for her to teach for the next school year despite her pregnancy. However, in June 1978, the school refused to honor the contract and terminated her employment on the grounds that she was unmarried and pregnant. She sued the school for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Wahlert High School asked the federal district court to dismiss the case or to give it summary judgment without the need of a trial. The court refused both requests and ordered the case to proceed to trial despite the school's objections based on the First Amendment and other legal grounds.
In making this ruling, the judge indicated that the court need not concern itself in any way with the content of a teacher's moral code or the substance of Catholic teaching generally. It need not pass judgment on the substance of the Catholic Church's moral or doctrinal precepts. The judge decided that the court's assertion of Title VII jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claim of sex discrimination would not entail excessive entanglement in the religious mission of the defendant's school and would not be violative of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. The only issues before the court were to decide whether those precepts, to the extent that they constitute essential conditions for continued employment, are applied equally to the defendant's male and female teachers; and whether Dolter was in fact discharged only because she was pregnant rather than because she obviously had premarital sexual intercourse in violation of the defendant's moral code. The case proceeded to a jury trial.
Points to consider:
Cline v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo et al.
Leigh Cline was a second-grade teacher at St. Paul Elementary and High School in the Catholic archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio. Cline's position as a teacher involved significant training and ministry in the Catholic faith. She acknowledged that her position at St. Paul required her to "build and live Christian community," "integrate learning and faith," and "instill a sense of mission" in her students. Her one-year contract outlined the ministerial responsibilities of the teacher and referenced the teacher handbook, which states that the mission of the school is to "instill in our children the gospel message of Jesus Christ."
In February 1996, Cline married her boyfriend. In early March, she informed the principal that she was pregnant. On learning that Cline had engaged in premarital sex, St. Paul officials did not immediately terminate her but considered "all options." The principal permitted Cline to continue teaching for the remainder of the school year.
About two months later, Cline received a glowing teacher performance evaluation, which noted her "successful" performance in almost all of 15 objective criteria. The principal also wrote that Cline was "adjust[ing] very well" to the "busy and changing year in regard to [her] classroom reassignment and personal life." He went on to say, "Your class of second-grade students is well managed and respectful. I would expect continued growth for the 1996-1997 school year." However, the school chose not to renew her contract at the end of the 1995-1996 school year.
Cline stated in a deposition that, when the principal informed her of the decision not to renew, he spoke only of her pregnancy so soon after marriage; he did not mention premarital sex. Cline filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming illegal sex and pregnancy discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC gave her a Notice of Right to Sue. She filed a case in federal district court.
The court responded favorably to the Catholic diocese's request for summary judgment, meaning a dismissal without a trial. Cline appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which reversed the decision and sent the case back to district court for trial.
Points to consider:
Vera Parker-Bigback v. St. Labre School
Vera Parker-Bigback had worked as a teacher and counselor from 1981 to 1993 in Ashland, Montana, at the St. Labre School, which serves Crow and Cheyenne Indians in eastern Montana. Her job as an employee assistant and counselor was eliminated by the school administration in 1993.
In a state lawsuit alleging marital status discrimination, she argued that she had lost her job because her supervisor, a Catholic priest, did not approve of her living with her boyfriend.
The school acknowledged in court papers that her job was eliminated in favor of the new position of personnel director, even though the priest believed that she was not conforming to Catholic moral teaching. Even so, the school argued, it would have had the right to dismiss her over her failure to conform to Catholic teaching, because she had signed a contract agreeing to
conform to and abide by all of the moral and religious teachings and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church and not to engage in any personal conduct or lifestyle which would be at variance with or contrary to the policies of the school and the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings or the moral and religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Vera Parker-Bigback lost in a state trial court and in a 5-2 decision in the Montana Supreme Court. The court ruled in late 1999 that her firing was based not on her marital status, which is a protected category under state law, but on her conduct in cohabiting with a man she wasn't married to, which violated church teaching.
Point to consider:
The two dissenting justices said that the school had agreed in its policy manual to abide by Montana's prohibitions against employment discrimination, including any that were based on marital status. Thus, since the priest had disapproved of Parker-Bigback's cohabitation, her termination was about marital status and the case should have been decided against the school on that basis.
What Lessons Can Be Learned from These Cases?
(1) Job applicants and employees must understand the school's religious mission. Employees of a Christian school don't have just a job; they have a mission. How well do Christian school employees understand the difference? A Christian school's lifestyle requirements won't make much sense to those looking just for employment. Secular employers can't make such lifestyle requirements. Therefore, every effort must be taken to educate Christian school employees-whether childcare workers, secretaries, teachers, or custodians-about their religious mission and their role as ministers of the gospel. Their life, their work, their actions, and their attitudes all count for God and for the children. Their life is to be lived for God 24/7/365, not just when they report in at the school. Consider new staff orientation and regular staff in-service times. What can your school do to better convey this ministry concept to staff members, leading them to understand the ministry commitment and the bona fide occupational qualification of being a Christian role model?
(2) Job applicants and employees must understand the school's moral expectations. In the Cline case and the two cases from "Moral Problems of School Employees-Part I," the plaintiffs all essentially said that they didn't know that premarital sex violated the terms of employment. In today's litigious culture, the school must specifically inform employees of the ministry expectation and the religious moral requirements. How do Christian schools address moral issues in their employment materials? Have they adopted a lifestyle statement for employees? Do schools both provide a rationale and document their moral requirements with Scripture? Unless they address these issues rather explicitly, schools will have a harder time successfully defending their policies if an employee files an EEOC complaint or a civil lawsuit.
Two helpful forms you can use with employees is the Lifestyle Statement and Declaration of Moral Integrity. These are both at the end of this article.
(3) All employees must be treated the same regarding moral requirements. The school must be consistent in the application of religious/moral requirements. Thus, the school must discipline male employees who engage in promiscuity in a similar fashion as it disciplines its female employees who have participated in premarital or extramarital sexual activity (regardless of whether a pregnancy is involved). A lack of consistency will seriously undermine the school's defense. The justices noted,
In suits like Cline's, courts have made clear that if the school's purported "discrimination" is based on a policy of preventing non-marital sexual activity which emanates from the religious and moral precepts of the school, and if that policy is applied equally to its male and female employees, then the school has not discriminated based on pregnancy in violation of Title VII.
(4) Schools cannot terminate pregnant out-of-wedlock women by simply observing their pregnant condition. At one point the court of appeals in the Cline case referred to an earlier case (Vigars v. Valley Christian Ctr.), which had ruled that "an anti-premarital sex policy violates Title VII if it is enforced solely through observing pregnancy, because such a policy subjects 'only women' to termination for something that men would not be, and that is sex discrimination, regardless of the justification put forth for the disparity." The court of appeals then concluded that "a school cannot use the mere observation or knowledge of pregnancy as its sole method of detecting violations of its premarital sex policy."
The court observed that "St. Paul officials acknowledged in their depositions that Cline's pregnancy alone had signaled them that she engaged in premarital sex, and that the school does not otherwise inquire as to whether male teachers engage in premarital sex."
Plaintiffs' attorneys are increasingly using this approach to attack the credibility of Christian school decision making regarding pregnancy issues. What is a school to do, then, if it can't use observation to make a determination in a pregnancy situation? The Declaration of Moral Integrity can help. It asks both men and women whether they have the moral qualifications to be in Christian school ministry on the basis of their moral behavior the previous 12 months. Requiring staff to affirm annually their understanding of a Christian role model and their commitment to live as one should help to show that the school is not dealing with the issue only when a pregnancy is obvious.
(5) Be careful about what you say or put in writing to an employee being disciplined.
Cline disputes some of St. Paul's evidence about the events preceding her nonrenewal. She argues that when Fr. Willman informed Cline of the decision not to renew, he only stated that it was due to her pregnancy so soon after marriage; according to Cline, he did not mention premarital sex....
For instance, she [Cline] testified to conversations and produced statements in which school officials explicitly discussed her "pregnancy" rather than her sexual actions.
(6) Be decisive in making disciplinary decisions. Two of the schools in this article did not take decisive action when dealing with pregnant out-of-wedlock situations. (Of course, no action should be taken in termination decisions without first seeking legal counsel!) By waiting, in some instances for several months, the school administration didn't convey the importance of this being a religious/moral issue and the basis for the termination being a violation of the religious/moral requirements of the ministry.
Here is what the court of appeals said on this issue (emphasis mine):
Cline presented a variety of concrete evidence casting into doubt the "reason" St. Paul proffered-that it decided not to renew her contract because she had violated its blanket policy against premarital sex. Most importantly, she presented evidence that the school continued to view her as sufficiently qualified to teach: the complimentary evaluation (mentioning both her "personal" and "professional" life), its consideration of other "options" for some time before opting to terminate her, and Father Willman's suggestion in the record that "things might have worked out differently" had Cline notified him of her pregnancy sooner.
...The fact that the school allowed her to keep teaching for the remainder of the year further bolsters this showing.
(7) Be careful not to make statements in employment materials about being in compliance with certain federal, state, or local laws if you know, or should know, that the laws contain requirements that violate your First Amendment freedoms.
The dissenting justices in the St. Labre School case thought the school should lose its case because its employment handbook said that the school would conform to a state nondiscrimination law which included the requirement that employers not discriminate based on marital status. Under that type of nondiscrimination category, an employer could not make any personnel decisions based on cohabitation, adulterous relationships, same-sex relationships, etc. Why say in your Christian employment materials that you would agree with such a law? Simply avoid referencing in your employment materials any laws or ordinances that conflict with your deeply held religious convictions. Be sure to discuss your decision in this regard with a competent attorney familiar with employment law and First Amendment rights.
(8) School boards and administrative teams must make an informed decision regarding taking a moral stand based on biblical convictions in light of today's culture and perhaps conflicting laws.
What is a Christian school going to do if its state or other governmental jurisdiction says that employers may not discriminate based on nondiscrimination categories such as marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression? Do such laws cancel its First Amendment rights to freedom of religion? A legal conflict is created under these circumstances. Each school should be prepared for the fact that it could be sued for discrimination if it takes a moral stand regarding inappropriate sexual activities by employees. Therefore, it is all the more important to clearly make lifestyle demands and expectations based on Scripture and clearly articulate such positions in all employment materials.
If you are sued, do you have the funds to help pay for a legal defense? A church or school's general liability insurance policy does not typically cover this type of employment discrimination lawsuit. This lack of coverage is one reason that ACSI created the Legal Defense Reimbursement Program. For more information on LDRP go to www.acsi.org/LDRP.
(9) Never make personnel decisions that have a moral component before consulting an attorney for professional advice on how to proceed.
A few hundred dollars spent on attorney advice could save your school thousands of dollars in legal fees. If you do not have a local attorney who is familiar with the moral issues discussed here in the religious context of employment, consider contacting the ACSI Legal Legislative Department. They will be able to give advice to you or give you information on attorney John L. Cooley. Mr. Cooley can give you expert initial advice and, if necessary, work with a local attorney as a legal situation unfolds.
(10) Take the time to read the earlier article published on this subject, and see the additional recommendations that are not repeated here. By giving serious attention to all the recommendations from both articles, your school should be prepared if it must face a difficult moral situation with an employee. Located in this new article.
Written by Burt Carney, ACSI's director for legal/legislative issues, with legal review and editing by attorney John L. Cooley
Sample Employee Lifestyle Statement
______________ Christian School is a religious, non-profit organization representing Jesus Christ throughout the evangelical community worldwide.
_____________ Christian School requires its employees to be born-again Christians, living their lives as Christian role models (Rom. 10:9-10; I Tim. 4:12; Luke 6:40). Employees will conduct themselves in a way that will not raise questions regarding their Christian testimonies. A Christian lifestyle should reflect the biblical perspective of integrity and appropriate personal and family relationships, business conduct and moral behavior. An employee is expected to demonstrate a teachable spirit, an ability to share love for others, a willingness to live contentedly under authority and a commitment to follow the Matthew 18 principle when an issue arises with fellow employees or management.
The ____________ Christian School Statement of Faith expects employees to maintain a lifestyle based on biblical standards of moral conduct. Moral misconduct, which violates the bona fide occupational qualification for employees to be Christian role models, includes, but is not limited to, promiscuity, homosexual behavior and/or sexual orientation, bisexuality, polygamy, transgender identity, or any other violation of the unique roles of male and female. (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:7-23; 20:10-21; Deuteronomy 5:18; Matthew 5:27-28; 15:19; Romans 1:21-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20).
_______________ Christian School believes that the term "marriage" has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union, as delineated in Scripture. (Gen 2:18-25) and that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other and that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity is engaged in outside of marriage between a man and a woman. (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:21-24, Matthew 19:4-9; Mark 10:5-9; Ephesians 5:22-33).
That to preserve __________________ Christian School's function and integrity its employees must be born-again Christians, living their lives as Christian role models (Rom. 10:9-10; I Tim. 4:12), maintaining a lifestyle based on biblical standards of conduct. Failure to do so may result in a reprimand or, in some cases, dismissal from employment.It is the goal of __________ Christian School that each employee will have a lifestyle where "...He might have the pre-eminence." Col. 1:18.
Consider attaching the following form to your school's employment application if your school has adopted a scriptural lifestyle statement. Print it on your school's letterhead.
Sample Declaration of Moral Integrity
[Print this Declaration of Moral Integrity form on school letterhead. Attach the form to your applications for employment.]
Our school expects all of its employees and its volunteers with unsupervised access to children to model the same Christian values and lifestyle that it seeks to inculcate in its students. As an applicant for a ministry position as an employee or as a volunteer at this school, I (print name) _________________ recognize, understand, and agree to live by the Christian moral standards of the school.
I declare that during the past year I have not engaged in, at the current time I am not engaging in, and promise that I will not during the term of my employment or volunteering, engage in inappropriate sexual conduct. Inappropriate conduct includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, transgender and/or gender identity, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, or sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.
I declare that the above statement is factual and true. My signature below indicates that I meet the moral integrity standards and Christian role model lifestyle requirements of this Christian school.
Applicant's signature Date
Administrator's signature after discussion with applicant/volunteer Date
"Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex." Hebrews 13:4 The Message
"A pupil is not superior to his teacher, but every one [when he is] completely trained-readjusted, restored, set to rights, and perfected-will be like his teacher." Luke 6:40 The Amplified Bible
Notice: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It has been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.
Association of Christian Schools International
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