Can California employers terminate workers for moral reasons?

A recent Los Angeles lawsuit brings up interesting legal questions as to whether or not an employee can be terminated for actions that his or her employer deems immoral. At issue is a lawsuit in which a former employee of a Christian college claims that she was subjected to wrongful termination from her position as a financial aid specialist.

The suit could trigger serious discussion about what constitutes proper grounds for dismissal and what is considered workplace discrimination As such, the outcome will be of interest to both employers and employees.

The woman involved in this case was called in to meet with her supervisor and the human resources director regarding rumors that she might be pregnant. She confirmed that she was expecting a child. Unexpectedly, the human resources manager gave her two options: she could either quit or be fired.

The former employee claims that she was not fired solely for being pregnant, but for violating the school's "community covenant" which specifies that the school frowns upon acts which it considers to be out of line with religious values. Among these acts is premarital sex. The woman involved in this case was not married when she admitted that she was pregnant, but has since been wed.

Although the covenant does not specify what the repercussions may be for violating the code, the college appears to believe termination is the appropriate response. As the California case moves forward, more details are expected to emerge, and other present and former employees may come forward with similar stories. In cases of wrongful termination, victims can recover damages associated with their loss of employment, including but not limited to lost wages and benefits, if it's determined that the employer's actions violate state or federal employment laws.

Source: ABC Los Angeles, "Lawsuit accuses Calif. Christian of firing employee for premarital sex, wedlock pregnancy," Sid Garcia, Feb. 14, 2013

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