A Catholic school in Montana recently fired one of its teachers because she was pregnant. She was not actually fired just for being pregnant; she was fired for being pregnant and unmarried. Shaela Evenson taught at the school for almost ten years before an anonymous letter was sent to the school district informing them of her pregnancy. Evenson was considered an “excellent teacher” prior to her termination. However, her actions, becoming pregnant outside of marriage, violated the morality clause in her contract, which allowed the school to fire her. She has filed a
discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Her lawsuit is not the first against a religious school for pregnancy related terminations.
Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited at the state and federal level, but religious institutions and organizations run by religious institutions are generally exempt from most federal and state employment discrimination laws. This means that Catholic schools can technically terminate employment if a person becomes pregnant outside of marriage. The fact that most religious organizations include morality clauses, like the one in Evenson’s contract, make it easier to defend firing unmarried pregnant employees because the employee knew in advance the action or behavior would lead to termination.
However, even with morality clauses and religious exemptions, courts have found religious organizations, usually schools, guilty of discrimination for firing pregnant teachers. One of the main reasons a court could find discrimination, despite morality clauses and exemptions, is unequal applications of the morality clauses (for instance, if a school fires an unmarried pregnant teacher, but does not fire a male teacher who is known to have a child outside of marriage). Fortunately most employers do not have to worry about the delicacies of equal application of morality
clauses, since they do not get an exemption from state and federal laws.
Pregnancy and Employment Laws
Non-religious employers are required to comply with state and federal employment discrimination laws. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or medical conditions related to pregnancy, such as infertility. The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) prohibits discrimination based on marital status and sex. Under Washington’s law, pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. This means most employers would not be able to fire Evenson for her pregnancy or
because she was not married when it occurred.
Also, pregnancies are generally considered temporary medical conditions, so pregnant employees are protected under the American’s with Disability Act (ADA), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). An employee may be eligible for temporary, reasonable accommodations for medical conditions related to pregnancy. These accommodations could include adjustments in job duties, temporary leave, extended unpaid leave (maternity leave), and accommodations to express milk while at work. Religious employers are also generally exempt from these laws; however married, pregnant employees seem to have fewer problems getting these accommodations.
If you believe you have suffered from discrimination in the workplace because of your pregnancy, an HKM employment law attorney can help