Can a Private Religious School Fire a Female Teacher for Being Pregnant Before Getting Married?

By Thomas McKinney

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination protects employees from discrimination in the workplace which includes wrongful termination due to being within a protected class, such as sex, marital status, or pregnancy. In the case of Victoria Crisitello v.St.Theresa School, a Catholic elementary school arts teacher was a part of a protected class through her marital status and pregnancy and was terminated by the school on account of the teacher having premarital sex which allegedly broke the code of ethics installed by the school for employees. However, upon further evidence and review, the school acknowledged that there was no actual statement within its code of ethics or policies that declared that the teacher would be terminated for engaging in premarital sex. To further the idea that the teacher was unlawfully discriminated against, another employee was also pregnant at the same time the teacher was and the school never questioned the other employee but rather assumed that she was married. Considering all the facts present, the court found that the case had to go to trial to determine whether the school violated the Law Against Discrimination by discrimination due to the teacher’s pregnancy and marital status. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to decide whether the school could invoke the “ministerial exception” of the First Amendment of the US Constitution to allow the school to fire the teacher for violating Catholic teachings.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.