Coty Richardson was working at Northwest Christian University in Eugene as an assistant professor of exercise science when she disclosed to her supervisor that she was pregnant.
Richardson told OPB's Think Out Loud she went into a meeting with her supervisor expecting to discuss scheduling issues due to her pregnancy, but instead she said, "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."
Richardson said she explained that she is in a stable, committed relationship with the father of her unborn child, but that the two are not married. According to Richardson, her supervisor expressed concern about her marital status.
"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.
Richardson said she was told that sexual relations outside of marriage are in conflict with the university's values and she was given an ultimatum: either break off the relationship with her partner, or get married before the start of the fall semester. She declined to comply and Richardson is no longer employed by the university. She is suing her former employer for wrongful termination.
Kate von Ter Stegge is a senior assistant county attorney for Multnomah County, specializing in employment law. On Think Out Loud she explained that Oregon law protects against discrimination in the workplace based on gender, pregnancy, and marital status.
"Religious institutions can (have) religious codes of conduct with employees so long as they enforce them in an even-handed manner as to gender," said von Ter Stegge. "So, are they treating men and women the same way when they enforce the policy?"
According to Richardson, that is not the case. She claims in her lawsuit that male employees at NCU who have had children out of wedlock have not been fired.
Von Ter Stegge pointed out that the university has not filed a reply to Richardson's lawsuit and that NCU could contest the ultimatum she said she was given.
Northwest Christian University declined to talk about the case or about their policies more generally. President Joseph D. Womack supplied OPB with the following statement:
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.”
Richardson described the past few months as "very stressful" and she said she currently does not have health insurance coverage after losing her job with NCU.