In a rare case, an unmarried teacher recently won a victory against her employer by applying Oregon’s law protecting individuals from discrimination based on marital status. The teacher worked at a Christian university, which required her to adhere to a certain moral standard. When she revealed that she was pregnant, unmarried, and living with her boyfriend, her employer gave her the options of ending her cohabitation, marrying the father of her child, or losing her job. When she declined the first two options, the university terminated her employment.
The university rationalized that it wasn’t discriminating against the teacher based on her status (unmarried) but on her conduct (engaging in sex outside of marriage). However, the court wasn’t convinced by the employer’s argument and determined that the employee’s marital status wasn’t distinguishable from her conduct as a single woman. By terminating the employee for engaging in sex outside of marriage, the university was discriminating against her based on marital status (Richardson v. Northwest Christian University, D Or, March 2017).
Tips for Employers: Are Your Policies Treating People Differently Based on Marital Status?
This case brings to light an Oregon law that isn’t often discussed or applied. While most employers are unlikely to adopt a policy similar to this Christian university, this case still serves as a reminder to ensure that your company policies are not discriminating against employees based on whether they are married or unmarried. While there may be certain laws that provide employees with different benefits based on marital status (e.g., the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows an employee to take time off to care for a spouse, but not an unmarried significant other), you should be careful if your policies are treating people differently based on their marital status. If you are unsure whether your policy or benefits are running afoul of Oregon law, be sure to talk with your Vigilant employment attorney.
This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.