Coty Richardson is suing the Northwest Christian University for $650,000 for wrongful termination for allegedly firing her because she was pregnant and not because she was carrying a baby in her belly out of wedlock.
"I would love to continue teaching at NCU," she told The Register-Guard added she has no ill-feelings towards the administrators of the private Christian school. Richardson had been teaching with the NCU for four years in the schools exercise science program, most recently as an assistant professor.
In an interview with OPB's Think Out Loud Richardson that when she told her supervisor in May about her pregnancy, she was expecting they would discuss scheduling issues during her pregnancy as she was planning to take a maternity leave this coming fall, but got the surprise of her life when she received the "pink slip."
"I was told that the academic portion or conflicts surrounding my pregnancy were not an issue and that the bigger issue was that I'm pregnant, the pregnancy of course will start showing soon, people will start having questions about my personal situation and [I] was questioned about that."
She maintained that her current relationship with the father of her unborn child remains stable but they chose to stay unmarried. But her supervisor explained to her that the school frowns upon pregnancy out of wedlock.
The school official then narrated the school's policy on morality and that maintaining sexual relations outside of marriage runs counter with the university's values. Richardson added she was given an ultimatum by the school to either get married with the father of her unborn child or break off the relationship. She refused to comply with the order and the school ended her employment.
Richardson disclosed that NCU faculty dean Dennis Lindsay informed her in a letter dated July 6 that her "lifestyle ... is inconsistent with the faith-based standards under which NCU operates" and that her employment would be terminated if she continued the relationship with her boyfriend outside of marriage.
"I was then told that if I had come in and expressed that the pregnancy was a mistake and that I didn't mean for it to happen, and that I had no intentions of continuing a relationship with the father, that the university could support me on that," she said.
On July 22 Lindsay wrote Richardson another letter formally terminating her services, but provided a separation pay, including $15,000 representing five months of her salary and 90 percent coverage of her medical insurance premium up to January 2015. Richardson declined the offer.
Think Out Loud contacted Kate von Ter Stegge, a senior assistant county attorney for Multnomah County and specializing in employment law, who said that Oregon law protects people against discrimination in the workplace based on gender, pregnancy, and marital status.
Von Ter Stegge commented, "Religious institutions can (have) religious codes of conduct with employees so long as they enforce them in an even-handed manner as to gender. So, are they treating men and women the same way when they enforce the policy?"
Northwest Christian University President Joseph D. Womack issued the following statement to OPB, "Northwest Christian University is an academic community comprised of students, faculty, and staff who are created in the image of God, and we honor each individual in the spirit of Christian charity, compassion, and mutual accountability. As a Christian institution of higher education, we exercise our mission within the covenants and freedoms inspired by our faith tradition. With regard to the current lawsuit, we are under legal counsel, and cannot comment on this matter."