Dr. Sheri Klouda taught biblical Hebrew at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth for seven years. Her tenure-track position, however, apparently derailed when a new president took over the seminary.
She filed a gender-discrimination complaint alleging that the new president had told her she would not be given a tenured position because she was a woman. The president quoted the Apostle Paul’s admonition in First Timothy that, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man,” a statement many theologians believe referred to a specific situation Paul was addressing at the time.
Although Dr. Klouda found another position, it paid less and she was forced to relocate to another state.
Traditionally, religious institutions are free to hire and fire at will because of First Amendment concerns, such as having judges parsing religious text. But this case raises some interesting issues. At the time Dr. Klouda was hired, the seminary had an equal opportunity policy for women. That only changed with the new president.
Advice: Generally speaking, policy changes that affect actual or implied guarantees to longtime employees are a bad idea. Although the seminary may duck this one using the “Apostle Paul” defense, most employers don’t have that luxury. Absent divinely inspired text, employers should adopt nondiscriminatory policies and enforce them even-handedly.