Moral Code or FMLA Violation? Court Hears Jarretta Hamilton Case

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 13, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Fourth grade teacher Jaretta Hamilton was fired after she told her boss at Southland Christian School that she planned to take maternity leave. While being pregnant was not cause for termination at the school, evidently, fornication was.

It doesn’t take a math teacher to calculate that Hamilton, who was due in October, must have conceived in January. That was a problem because Hamilton married in February. When asked when she conceived, Hamilton conceded that she became pregnant three weeks prior to her wedding, reports ABC News.

Now it's up to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether Hamilton's termination was a proper application of the school's moral code, or a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) violation.

Hamilton claims in an employment discrimination lawsuit that she was fired because of the costs associated with finding a substitute teacher for her while she was on maternity leave. She also argues that Southland engages in gender discrimination because male employees don't have to answer questions about their sexual histories.

Southland Principal Jon Ennis counters that the Southland handbook requires employees to serve as Christian role models. While premarital sex is not explicitly prohibited, teachers are urged to avoid putting administrators in the "very difficult situation" of disciplining faculty who don't comply with policy, reports The Associated Press.

Last year, a federal judge ruled against Hamilton, finding that she was not treated differently from other school employees who engaged in premarital sex.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had to consider an additional argument in Hamilton's appeal this week: Do the First Amendment Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses bar Hamilton's employment discrimination lawsuit? In January, the Supreme Court ruled that ministers may not bring employment discrimination claims against their religious employers.

During oral arguments on Tuesday, Circuit Judges Ed Carnes, Beverly Martin and Adalberto Jordan mainly questioned whether Ennis had a mixed motive when he fired Hamilton, and whether Hamilton could be considered a minister because of her role at a religious school, the AP reports.

Is Southland employing a paternalistic double-standard? More importantly, is this an FMLA violation, or did Southland have a non-discriminatory basis for firing Jaretta Hamilton?

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