HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) – A teacher claims in court that her Christian school suspended her son for the “sin” of being gay, then subjected her to “scathing condemnation and blame” for supporting him rather than demanding that he “renounce his sin” – a situation so fraught that it led to her firing.
Sharon Wright sued Covenant Christian Academy in Federal Court. The K-12 school is the only named defendant, though Wright identifies several top administrators in her 30-page complaint.
Wright claims she had taught full time at the defendant school since 2002, enrolled her two sons there, and was teaching fifth grade when the situation blew up. She says the school refused to renew her contract after she asked for accommodations for her adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression, brought on by harassment from the school’s board members, administrators and faculty.
Wright says one of her sons, then a high school senior, announced his sexual orientation on a social media blog on Oct. 12, 2009.
When school administrators learned of this, she says, they “took steps to immediately suspend him from school.”
The complaint continues: “In this regard, Mr. [headmaster Joseph] Sanelli instructed plaintiff and her husband that their son should not report to school the next day until the matter could be fully discussed.
“Shortly after plaintiff’s son’s declaration, plaintiff and her husband met with
Mr. Sanelli, Ms. [grammar school principal Gloria] Stucky, and defendant’s Upper School Principal, Robyn Burlew.
“At said meeting, plaintiff was informed that her son was to be permanently suspended from school and would not be permitted to return until he “renounced his sin.'”
School Board member Rich Raynor followed this up by telling her: “‘your son is broken, and it’s your job to fix him,'” the complaint states.
And, Wright says, Raynor’s wife told her “that this was a ‘battle for [your son’s] soul’ and opined that he ‘may have been abused as a child.'”
Wright says in the complaint that the Academy “embraces historic Christianity as represented in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation” and “views homosexuality as a sin.”
Wright says she and her husband advised the school and its leaders that “after consultation with various psychiatric, psychological and pediatric professionals they had come to the conclusion that their son’s sexual orientation was already determined, that it would be potentially harmful to try to ‘reprogram’ him, that they had decided their best course of action was to support him and love him for who he is, and that they could not agree that homosexuality is a sin.”
She says she and her husband “expressed that they disagreed with CCA’s doctrinal position on homosexual behavior, criticized said position, and would not force their son to renounce his sexual orientation as a sin.”
According to the complaint, principal Burlew told Wright “that she (Ms. Burlew) would ‘go out on a limb’ to recommend that plaintiff’s son be permitted to return to school at defendant CCA.”
“Ms. Burlew stated that, in her opinion, ‘everyone struggles with sin’ and that the plaintiff’s son is no different.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
On Oct. 15, three days after her son disclosed his sexual orientation online, the headmaster Sanelli sent White a letter that stated her “support of her son ‘in no way affects the employment of Sharon here at CCA or the enrollment of [her son]. We support Sharon and consider her a valuable member of the faculty,'” according to the complaint.
After more discussions and emails, the defendant decided that while White’s employment and her younger son’s enrollment would not be affected, her eldest son would not be permitted to attend the Academy as an “in school student” and a proctor, textbooks and assignments would be provided to fulfill his academic and graduation requirements, the mom says.
According to the complaint, “at no time” was White instructed that “she must renounce her son’s sexual orientation as a sin in order to retain her employment status with defendant.”
But throughout the rest of the school year, White says, the school organization “proffered unsolicited opinions” concerning her son’s orientation, including the board member’s and his wife’s comments above.
What claims that the constant criticism and blame gave her adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression. She requested medical leave of absence to treat her disability in January 2010, and says she was encouraged to take a “year to heal,” which she calls an attempt to “impose upon plaintiff an involuntary sabbatical for the 2010-2011 academic year.”
White says she informed the school in a letter of May 10, 2010, that she was capable of continuing to teach with the option of taking necessary intermittent medical leaves of absence. But when she requested reasonable accommodation, including intermittent medical leaves of absence, White says, she was denied a contract for the next school year.
She says the school told her she was not offered a contract because her May 10 letter allegedly attacked the school’s position on homosexual behavior, and called those who held such positions “bigots.”
White says this “ostensible basis” for her firing “is wholly without basis in facts and [is] a pretense for intentional discrimination and retaliation.”
“In fact, nowhere in her May 10, 2010 letter does plaintiff use the word ‘bigot’ to describe her feelings toward those at CCA with whom plaintiff disagreed with respect to defendant’s doctrinal position on homosexual behavior,” the complaint states.
“Moreover, days before plaintiff’s May 10, 2010 letter defendant, by and through its agent, Ms. Stucky, recommended that plaintiff not be offered a full-time position for the 2010-2011 academic year, as more fully described above.”
White seeks an injunction, back pay, benefits, reinstatement or front pay, and punitive damages for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, ADA violations, and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act and Human Relations Act.
She is represented by Solomon Krevsky, with Clark & Krevsky, of Lemoyne, Pa.