Professor Coty Richardson was in very good standing at Northwest Christian University, until she became pregnant. Now she's suing for discrimination.
It seems that having a baby "out of wedlock" is still deemed unacceptable in the eyes of some archaic institutions. Despite the fact that a growing number of millennial women are choosing to become pregnant outside of the bonds of marriage—U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that more than 20 percent of women who had their first child in the last 15 years were living with an unmarried partner—Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Ore., decided that it was unwilling to employ exercise science professor Coty Richardson for those exact reasons.
'Setting a bad example'
After being summarily fired, Professor Richardson, who was in good standing during her five years at NCU before this incident, filed a lawsuit against the university with the assistance of her lawyer, Jason Rittereiser of HKM Employment Attorneys. She's claiming discrimination and wrongful termination after the vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty gave her an ultimatum to either marry the baby's father or end the relationship and show public remorse. This was in reaction to her notifying the university of her pregnancy as she was making plans for maternity leave during the 2015-2016 school year. She was told her behavior was "inconsistent with the university's core values and mission and set a bad example for the students." In response, Richardson requested privacy. She was then let go from her job.
"NCU was clear that Ms. Richardson's job performance was not an issue nor were scheduling concerns around her pregnancy," Rittereiser says. "Her employment reviews have been superlative, both from supervisors and from students, and she was consistently recognized for her dedication, performance, and her skills." She had even recently been promoted.
What's even more confounding is the fact that the university employs several unmarried fathers. Why women are held to a different standard remains unclear. This kind of discrimination based upon marital and pregnancy status is illegal and been "humiliating and confusing" for Richardson, according to her lawyer.
Standing up for what's right
"Already dealing with some complications with her pregnancy, she has suffered incredible emotional distress while carrying her unborn child," Rittereiser says. "Instead of allowing NCU to get away with this despicable conduct, Ms. Richardson has decided to stand up for her rights and the rights of women in the workplace. She has demanded that she be reinstated."
When Fit Pregnancy reached out to NCU for comment, the university's president, Joseph D. Womack, provided this 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."
At this point, there's a petition for Richardson's reinstatement with over 600 signatures, which isn't surprising given that she was equally loved and respected by her students and peers. Although, it would be surprising if she actually wanted to stay in a workplace that doesn't support her decision to become a mother. Either way, rather ironically, Richardson actually plans to marry her current partner, a man she's been with for 12 years. Not that the university should be appeased in any way whatsoever.