College Fires Professor for Being Pregnant

     EUGENE, Ore. (CN) – A Christian college fired a professor for refusing to marry her boyfriend of 12 years or declare her pregnancy “a mistake” and break up with him, the professor claims in court.
     Coty Richardson sued Northwest Christian University on Tuesday in Lane County Court, alleging employment discrimination, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     Northwest hired her in 2011 and quickly promoted her to assistant professor of exercise science, with a full course load, Richardson says in the complaint. She signed a “faith statement” affirming her Christianity and in February this year signed a contract for the 2015-2016 school year.
     Richardson, a single mother of two, says she has been in a committed relationship for 12 years.
     She became pregnant this year and they discussed marriage, but decided that “from a financial, emotional and practical perspective,” the time was not right.
     Richardson told the school in May that she was pregnant, to ensure that maternity leave for her late November due date would fit with the schedule for the fall semester.
     She says she emailed Hieke McNiel, program director for exercise science, and Dennis Lindsay, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, neither of whom are parties to the complaint.
     In the email, she says, she suggested work-arounds in case her maternity leave fell during the last few weeks of the fall semester.
     Lindsay immediately scheduled a meeting, Richardson says, where he “emphasized that ‘scheduling’ issues were not ‘the problem’ with her pregnancy.”
     She says Lindsay told her the issue was that she would be “showing” soon and that “many of the students and staff would start to ‘ask questions.'”
     Lindsay “then demanded that she explain the status of her relationship with her partner,” the lawsuit states.
     Richardson says she told Lindsay that while she and the father of her child were not married, “they loved each other, and they hoped to get married in the future.”
     Lindsay responded with an ultimatum, Richardson told Courthouse News.
     “I had two choices: I could proclaim that my pregnancy was a mistake, cut ties with the father and continue on as a single mother, or I could get married by the end of the summer,” Richardson said. “Then they demanded that I either stop cohabitating with my partner or lose my job.
     “Initially, I was shocked,” Richardson said. “I was caught off guard, really. Secondly, I felt kind of bullied and threatened and definitely that they were extending past their authority and stepping into my life.”
     The lawsuit states that Lindsay gave her until late August to make a decision, but called her repeatedly to ask what it would be. “He left a voicemail for her asking whether she had decided to end her relationship with her partner or marry him,” the complaint states.
     Richardson says she told Lindsay several times that her “decisions about her pregnancy and her relationship with her partner were personal matters that have nothing to do with her employment and exemplary performance at NCU.”
     But on July 6 Lindsay told her “that she had seven days to decide whether to cut ties with her partner or marry him,” according to the complaint. She sent him a letter on July 14 “requesting privacy on the matter and expressing her wish not to discuss her personal life and circumstances.”
     When she tried to log in to her work email on July 28, she was denied access as a “former employee.”
     Two days later, she received a letter from Lindsay saying that the school’s “‘core values do not allow for the lifestyle which you have chosen and … intend to continue.’ Then for the first time, Dr. Lindsay’s letter proclaims that, ‘sexual relations outside of marriage is [sic] contrary to the University’s core values,’ and that ‘you are a single mother and your pregnancy would result in a very demonstrative violation of that core value.’ Without providing Ms. Richardson an opportunity to present her case to a faculty review panel or engage in the proper process for termination, Dr. Lindsay concluded, ‘your employment with NCU is now at an end.'”
     The school told her it wouldn’t pay her for the 2015-2016 school year, despite her contract.
     Richardson says the school didn’t fire male employees who had children without being married.
     She seeks lost wages and benefits and damages for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, marital status discrimination, religious discrimination, wrongful firing, repudiation of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and employment law violations.
     She is represented by Daniel Kalish and Jason Rittereiser with HKM Employment Attorneys in Portland.
     Jeannine Jones, director of university relations for the school, declined to comment.
     Founded in 1895, Northwest Christian University is a private, religiously affiliated school with 705 students, according to its website, checked Thursday. Exercise science is one of its most popular programs.
     Rittereiser said Richardson was standing up for gender equality in the workplace.
     “Part of Ms. Richardson’s motivation is not just to protect her own rights, but women’s’ rights in general,” Rittereiser said. “What a woman does in her bedroom is never the business of her employer. Unfortunately, they tried to make it their business by giving her an ultimatum that violates the law.
     “Their employment practice of inquiring of their female employees about their marital status violates the law. And that’s a law that applies to them regardless of whether they’re a Christian university.”
     Richardson added: “I’m aware of my rights. With that ultimatum, it was clear that they were violating not only their own nondiscrimination policy but also several laws. I didn’t want to lose my job, but I also didn’t want to be forced into marrying when I wasn’t ready.”
     Her attorney said the case “has implications far beyond just Ms. Richardson’s situation. Especially with the current back drop of the Supreme Court decision supporting marriage, it’s astounding that the university would take a position that is really against what the public believes.
     “It’s unfathomable today that the university would fire a single woman while she’s pregnant after giving her an ultimatum.”

%d bloggers like this: