Fired for Lack of Spiritual Proof, Teachers Say

     VENTURA, Calif. (CN) – A private school fired two teachers for refusing to provide letters from a minister with “comment on the faith of the employee,” and for refusing “spiritual counseling,” the teachers claim in court.
     Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara sued Family, Life, Faith and Freedom Educational Corporation dba Little Oaks School in Superior Court.
     Little Oaks, a private Christian preschool and elementary school set up 30 years ago in Thousand Oaks, was purchased in 2009 by Family, Life, Faith and Freedom Educational Corporation, an affiliate of Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks, according to the school website.
     The plaintiffs, both preschool teachers, claim preschool director Kimberly Mack and executive director Piamor Jacobe require teachers to fill out and sign “pastoral reference for employment” sheets to keep their jobs.
     Mack and Jacobe are not parties to the complaint.
     “The pastoral reference requested the pastor to confirm whether the employee attended the pastor’s church faithfully, the length of time the employee attended church, and whether the employee had any special involvement in the church,” the complaint states. “In addition, the pastoral reference requested the pastor to comment on the faith of the employee and an endorsement regarding the intention of the employee to serve as a Little Oaks staff member.”
     Serrano started working for Little Oaks in 2006, Guevara in 2011, according to the complaint.
     The women say they received the reference letters after Mack told them to check their school mailboxes because “there was something important” inside.
     “During the week of July 30, 2012, Serrano and Guevara received notice of their employee reviews and an appointment date and time for the reviews. On Monday, August 6, 2012, Serrano was asked at her performance review by Jacobe whether she had a signed pastoral reference. Serrano indicated that she did not have a signed pastoral reference and that she did not know whether she would attempt to get the reference signed by a pastor. At this time, Jacobe told Serrano that she and her husband needed ‘spiritual counseling,” the complaint states.
     Serrano claims Jacobe refused to discuss her employment with Little Oaks until she brought in a signed pastoral reference. When Serrano met with Jacobe four days later without it, “Jacobe told Serrano that her employment with Family Life would end on August 24, 2012,” the complaint states.
     Guevara’s story is similar. After finding the sheet in her mailbox, she says, she asked Jacobe about it and was told that she needed to get it signed by a pastor.
     “When Guevara asked Jacobe what would happen if she did not get the reference signed, Jacobe responded, ‘How are you going to be fed?’ making a biblical reference,” the complaint states.
     When Guevara told Jacobe a few days later that she did not get the sheet signed, Jacobe fired her too.
     The women say they never had to get signed pastoral reference sheets or a “statement of faith” before, and that this “was the first time that [they] were instructed by defendant that regular church attendance was a condition of continued employment at the school.”
     The complaint does not state whether Serrano and Guevara practice a different religion than the one endorsed by the school.
     They claim director Mack got to keep her job though she didn’t go to church regularly and did not immediately get the pastoral sheet signed.
     “Mack eventually had her pastoral reference signed by Head Pastor Robert McCoy after Mack turned in a letter of resignation. However, Mack did not resign and was allowed to continue her employment with defendant. Neither Serrano nor Guevara was afforded this opportunity,” the complaint states.
     The women seek punitive damages for religious discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination, and compensatory damages for lost wages and other benefits.
     They are represented by Dawn M. Coulson with Epps and Coulson of Los Angeles.

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