Religious institutions get some leeway in hiring decisions and it’s not unusual to require staff to be of a specific religion or to meet ethical standards. However, when those standards are applied differently across the board, there are serious questions of discrimination to be answered.
That’s the situation at San Diego Christian College, where a 29-year-old pregnant woman was fired for “premarital sex”. The college then offered the job to the woman’s then-fiancé.
Teri James told NBC that she, along with most of the school’s employees, signed a contract agreeing not to engage in “sexually immoral behaviour including premarital sex” – along with a number of other “deadly” sins such as abusive anger, malice, jealousy and lust.
"I needed a job in this economy and so I never thought that anything would happen," James said.
James was pulled into her supervisor's office last fall, where she was asked if she was pregnant and then was let go. After James lost her job, she claims the school offered a position to her now-husband, even though they were aware he'd had sex before getting married, too.
During a news conference featured in a KTLA report, James said she felt she was treated unfairly.
"I was unmarried, pregnant and they took away my livelihood," James said.
According to a Slate.com report, Christian organizations in the USA frequently try to get around anti-discrimination legislation protecting pregnant women by claiming they are being fired for fornication, not for getting pregnant.
Last year in Florida, an appeals court ruled that a teacher's case would be moving to trial after the judges decided the school might have fired the woman not because she admitted to getting pregnant while unmarried, but because they didn't want to find a replacement for her during while she'd be on maternity leave.
Accusations of discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy have gone up in Canada according to data released last year by the Human Rights Commission.
However, according to New Brunswick’s Human Rights Commission chairman Randy Dickinson, it could be a combination of awareness and ignorance driving those numbers, rather than a sign of employers becoming increasingly vindictive.
“More women are becoming more aware of their rights and the opportunity to seek assistance,” chairman of New Brunswick's Human Rights Commission, Randy Dickinson says. “I think also, to be fair, there are a lot of employers that we get involved with that they just didn't know their obligations and once it was brought to their attention, they quickly rectified the situation.”
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