EUGENE, Ore. (Christian Examiner) – Two months after Coty Richardson informed Northwest Christian University (NCU) that she was expecting a child in November, she received a letter of termination.
On Oct. 6 she filed a lawsuit accusing NCU of pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, marital status discrimination, wrongful termination, and breach of contract.
Her dean demanded she provide proof of marriage or declare the pregnancy a mistake.
Her lawsuit says, "Ms. Richardson was mortified and crushed. Her career was being threatened because she became pregnant and refused to cut ties with the father of her child and her partner of twelve years."
She says she would like to be rehired. "I would love to continue teaching at NCU," said Richardson in an interview with the Register-Guard.
Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Dennis Lindsay told her that she could marry her child's father or dissociate with him and claim the pregnancy was a mistake. Lindsay said her decision to have a child out of wedlock would set a "bad example."
Lindsay's termination letter to Richardson dated July 22 states:
"I have tried to be clear with you that sexual relations outside of marriage is contrary to the University's core values. Despite your statements it is known within the University, both to faculty and to students, that you are a single mother and your pregnancy would result in a very demonstrative violation of that core value. I understand your desire to keep your private life private. However, your actions have resulted in that not being possible."
Lindsay fired Richardson because she violated the terms of the faculty handbook, which he said "reflects that NCU is an academic institution with its foundation in the Christian faith."
Richardson said she and her boyfriend have considered marriage, but the timing is not right because he lives in Washington while she lives in Oregon with her two children from previous relationships.
She asked for privacy and rejected Lindsay's ultimatum.
She also rejected the separation package of five months' pay and 90 percent of her health insurance premium. "The opportunity was there," Richardson said, "but in my heart, I feel that the whole situation was handled completely wrong and I wouldn't feel good about [accepting a separation package] on the terms it was given."
Richardson is seeking $650,000 in damages and would like to regain her previous position of assistant professor of exercise science.
The July 6 letter said Richardson's "lifestyle ... is inconsistent with the faith-based standards under which NCU operates."
"There is no reference to that [a faculty member becoming pregnant outside of marriage]," said Richardson, adding she believed male faculty members had fathered children outside of wedlock and not been fired.
UCLA law professor and law blogger Eugene Volokh told the Wall Street Journal the university may not have a particularly strong First Amendment defense because Richardson's job description was not religious like that of a chaplain.
"But it looks like there's nothing particularly religious about her job other than her teaching at a religious university," he said.
Richardson had worked at NCU from August 2011 and was offered a full-time teaching position after her first year. She now works part-time as a fitness trainer.
NCU has not yet filed its answer to Richardson's lawsuit.