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Premarital sex or pregnancy discrimination? One’s protected while the other is not

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in Firing,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

There is no freedom from discrimination based on having premarital sex, but there is a right to be free of pregnancy discrimination. It may seem odd, but employers can technically fire someone for behavior that doesn’t meet the employer’s “moral” standards as long as no other protected characteristic is involved.

Recent case: Jarretta was hired to teach at a Christian school. She got pregnant and immediately married her fiancé. She told her supervisors she was expecting and requested maternity leave. According to Jarretta, their response was to lament having to find a substitute teacher.

Jarretta was then fired after also admitting she had committed sin by having sex before marriage. She sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination.

The school said it hadn’t fired her because she was pregnant, but because she had sinned and there were “consequences for disobeying the word of God.”

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. While discrimination based on having premarital sex isn’t prohibited under Title VII, pregnancy discrimination is. The court thought the evidence might point in either direction.

Since juries decide the facts, they will have to decide who is telling the truth. Was Jarretta fired for having sex outside marriage or for incon­­veniencing the school by getting pregnant and needing leave? (Hamil­­ton v. Southland Christian School, No. 11-13696, 11th Cir., 2012)

Final note: The court didn’t consider the so-called ministerial exception in this case because the school didn’t bring up the issue early enough.

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