According to the Dallas Morning News, Freda Brown, with the backing of an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), filed a the suit against First Baptist Church of Dallas last week that accuses the church of discriminating against her because of her gender and pregnancy. She is asking for lost wages and other damages.
The case brings to the surface another face off between labor laws and a church’s right to religious freedom.
“If the church can’t set moral standards for those employees, what can it do?” said Kelly Shackelford, a religious freedom attorney who is not involved in the suit, to the Morning News. Shackelford said the courts have generally upheld the church’s side on similar questions.
James Ryan, a spokesman for the EEOC, which is not a plaintiff in the case, told the newspaper that, “An employer is an employer, and, whether it’s of religious character or not, Americans need and deserve protection from employment discrimination.”
Brown was hired by the church full-time in 2001, and four years later she became pregnant, but was not married. When the church found out in May 2005, Brown said she was invited to a staff meeting where members chastised her about premarital sex and asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life. Later, she also alleges, she was told by the human resources director that she was not “living a Christian life,” and that she would have to sign a statement saying she promised to abstain from premarital sex in the future.
In June 2005, Brown said that First Baptist told her she would be “let go” with pay until she had her baby, at which point she filed a complaint with the EEOC, claiming gender discrimination. She said the church allowed her to return after she filed the complaint, but only on a part-time basis and without insurance benefits.