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article imageTeacher, fired for having premarital sex, takes school to court

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By Yukio Strachan     May 17, 2012 in Religion
A fourth-grade teacher at a Christian school, fired for the "immoral" act of "fornication, sex outside of marriage," can now take the school to court.
When Jarretta Hamilton, now 41, began teaching at Southland Christian School in Florida, in 2008, she never could have imagined how her life would unfold.
According to court documents, sometime in January 2009, she and her then-fiancé, Samuel Treftz, conceived a child.
AOL news says, Hamilton, a widow with five children from her first marriage, married Treftz on Feb. 20, 2009, about three weeks after conceiving.
On Sunday, April 5, 2009, Hamilton met with John and Julie Ennis, Southland’s principal and assistant principal, to tell them the good news and to ask for the standard six weeks of maternity leave during the next school year.
But instead of congratulations and asking when the baby was due, John asked a rather peculiar question.
"'Well, I'm just trying to do the math here. When did you get married again?" Hamilton recalled the principal asking, during a "Today" show interview in 2010. "Well, did you conceive prior to marriage?" .
Taken off guard, she said, "I answered and I told him yes. [His question] came out of nowhere."
So did Southland's next move.
The following Thursday, Southland fired Hamilton, purportedly because she had sinned by engaging in premarital sex and, as John Ennis put it,“there are consequences for disobeying the word of God.”
"I was absolutely shocked," said Hamilton, who sat in the studio with Treftz and cradled their 8-month-old daughter, Sarah. "I was honest about it. I didn't know it would cost me my job."
And if that wasn't enough, she said the school let everybody know it.
"They told the entire staff in a staff meeting that I had been fired and the reason why they let me go, and then they called all of the parents to my fourth-grade students and told them as well," Hamilton told AOL news. "In fact, I had a number of parents call me because they were really upset about it and felt that my performance in the classroom was what mattered and not my personal life."
So Hamilton hired a lawyer and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued a right-to-sue letter on May 4, 2010.
She then filed a complaint in federal district court against Southland asserting a claim of pregnancy discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1)–(2), 2000e(k), and state law claims of marital status discrimination and invasion of privacy, court papers say.
The lawsuit requested damages equal to lost wages for the remaining months of the 2009 school year, the 2010 academic year she expected to work and, because the disclosure of personal information caused her suffer, "emotional and mental distress, anguish, humiliation, embarrassment and anxiety."
In a letter to Hamilton's lawyer, Ed Gay, the school said she wasn't let go because of her pregnancy but because of "fornication, sex outside of marriage."
"In response to the first claim that she was fired because she was pregnant this is not true," Ennis wrote. "We do have teachers employed that are pregnant, two just last year while Jarretta was employed here."
The letter said she agreed in her job application to uphold the school's values.
"Jarretta was asked not to return because she chose to disregard these [school morality] standards and have sex outside of marriage, an immoral action."
"I didn't know that they were going to judge so harshly, that this was the way they felt about premarital sex," she said. "I wasn't clear what their stance was on certain issues."
"They admitted that if she had conceived during the marriage she would've remained in employment," Gay, Hamilton's attorney, told AOL News in 2010.
Gay told ABC news Hamilton learned she had become pregnant only after she and her husband married and the wedding had been planned months in advance.
"She was intending on marrying this man and didn't know she was pregnant," he said. "They didn't get married because of the pregnancy. They didn't know until later, after they were already married."
The Law Blog states that Title VII doesn’t protect any right to engage in premarital sex, but it does protect the right to get pregnant, per the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
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.
But Hamilton didn't stop there. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which heard Hamilton’s appeal after a lower court threw out her lawsuit, considered whether the school sacked her for being pregnant or for sinning.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that in a ruling Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit determined that it was the former: for being pregnant.
The court said Hamilton had established a genuine enough disagreement on the reasons for her firing to raise a reasonable inference of intentional discrimination by the school to have a jury hear her case.
“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,” appeals court Judge Edward 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 testified that John Ennis told her that she was going to have to “take the year off” because
replacing a teacher taking maternity leave after the school year had started was "hard to do".
According to Hamilton’s deposition, she asked John Ennis: “What is the issue here? Is it because of the coverage? Or is it because of the premarital conception?” Hamilton said that Ennis replied that it was “both reasons.”
Ennis testified at deposition that, even though Hamilton committed the sin of premarital sex, “if, in fact, she would have said to us I’m sorry that I’ve sinned against the Lord and this school, we would not be here. We could have gone in another total direction. . . . [But] I never heard her say she was sorry.”
But Hamilton testified that after she told the Ennises about her pregnancy:
I became afraid that I had done something horrible. And I went to
God in prayer, and my husband and I both together, and asked for
forgiveness. And I expressed that to Mr. Ennis. Hopefully, you
know, letting him know that I, you know, was remorseful for what
had—you know, if I’ve done something so horrible against God. And
that God had forgiven me, and I just wanted him to, if, you know, it
was such a horrible thing. But it didn’t make a difference.
Carnes wrote: “So, her testimony contradicted John Ennis’ testimony that he had never heard her say she was sorry and that he would not have fired her if she had. For that, and the other reasons we have discussed, Hamilton has established a genuine issue of material fact about the reason Southland fired her.”
The judge added: “The ultimate issue is one for a jury to decide.”
According to the Wall Street Journal,Gay said he and his client were pleased with the ruling.
“We’re looking forward to our day in court,” Gay said.
Back in 2010, the school had hoped it would not go this far. The administration told ABCNews.com at the time it wasn't the courtroom "testimony" that Hamilton should be concerned about.
"We request," the school closed its letter, "that Jarretta withdraw her complaint and consider the testimony of the Lord."
Now, we want to know what you think? Was the school really in the wrong?
"Jarretta was asked not to return because she chose to disregard these [school morality] standards and have sex outside of marriage, an immoral action."
Let us know in the comments below!
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