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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Friday, April 20, 2012

More on Morals Clauses

Scarlett LetterFrank touched on the issue of morals clauses in a post earlier this week.  The case on which Frank commented involved a professional athlete, and most most morals clause cases that we have addressed here involve celebrities and often celebrity endorsements.  But today we report on a morals cause case that invovles an ordinary working Joe (well, Jane actually).

According to abcnews.go.com, Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Texas fired teacher and coach, Cathy Samford, for getting pregnant out of wedlock.  The school claims that Samford violated the “moral clause” in her contract.  Samford and her fiancé had plans to marry at the end of the summer, but a series of events delayed the wedding.  Shockingly marital relations were not similarly delayed.  The school informed Samford that she was to be terminated, even though Samford and her fiancé offered to marry immediately, as that was the plan regardless. Samford has filed a charge of gender and pregnancy discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is preparing a lawsuit against the school.

Samford maintains that she did not violate her contract in any way and that the morals clause is vague and unenforceable, as it merely calls on employees to be “Christian role models.”  Samford’s attorney, Colin Walsh, explained to ABCNews.com that “It’s against the law to fire someone for them taking a pregnancy leave and you can’t preventatively fire someone.  You can’t contract around anti-discrimination laws. . . ." 

The school’s headmaster, Dr. Ron Taylor, told ABC News that “the issue is that Samford is an unmarried mother, and everything the school stands for says and they want their teachers, who are considered to be in the ministry, to model what a Christian man or woman should be”.  Taylor further intimated that “[the school] had the feeling that because kids on [Samford’s] volleyball team and kids in her classes knew she was pregnant, her getting married would not change the fact that her behavior was out of wedlock.”  The language of ministry is significant, since the Supreme Court recently held in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, claiming termination in violation of employment discrimination laws.  Samford's attorney contends that the school cannot invoke this ministerial exception for all of its employees just because it is a Christian institution.

[JT and Christina Phillips]

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