Can you be fired for being pregnant and unmarried?

Almost every state in the U.S., including Wisconsin, is an at-will employment state. This means that absent any federal or state law violation, either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship for any reason at any time. To add a bit more definition to employment relationships, many employers use employment contracts. However, contracts are only enforceable if their contents do not violate any laws.

A slurry of employment law disputes have recently centered on the issue of employment contracts potentially conflicting with federal anti-discrimination laws. These cases involve multiple Christian schools that were sued after firing unwed pregnant employees. While some think this is illegal discrimination against pregnant women, the schools maintain that their employees sign contracts promising to abide by Christian values, including abstaining from sex until marriage.

The most recent case began this fall when a woman who worked for a Christian college in California says her supervisor called her into her office and asked if she was pregnant. When the woman, who was engaged but not married, said that she was pregnant she was promptly fired.

The college maintains that it fired her for violating the terms of an employment handbook and covenant. The covenant did state the employees were not to engage in premarital sex.

Oddly, the college then offered a job to the fired employee’s fiancé, who impregnated the woman out of wedlock.

Workers can, often, lose their jobs for violating employment contracts. This is the case even when the violation seems to have nothing to do with the person’s job. However, firing workers for engaging in premarital sex may not be a contractual issue; it may actually be a sex discrimination or pregnancy discrimination issue.

This is because, in part, contractual provisions banning premarital sex seem to apply only to women. An employer would likely never find out that a male employee has engaged in premarital sex, however, an unwed pregnant woman cannot hide the same fact. This, nonetheless, remains a very complex issue of the law, and the several cases that are currently before the courts should provide some clarity into this issue as they unfold.

Source: Today, “Christian school fires pregnant woman over premarital sex,” Isolde Raftery, Feb. 28, 2013

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