The couple sat close together with her right hand clasped in his left hand and her left arm cradling the 8-month-old daughter whose conception cost the woman her job.
The couple’s sin, according to her former employer, Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Fla., is fornication – having sex before they got married.
Jarretta Hamilton and her husband of 16 months, Samuel Treftz, told TODAY’s Ann Curry Monday that the termination violated federal anti-discrimination laws. In addition, they allege in a pending lawsuit, the school’s principal, Jon Ennis, invaded Hamilton’s privacy by telling other teachers and the parents of her students the exact reason she was fired.
“When they let me go, they told the entire staff in a staff meeting that I had been fired and the reason why they let me go. And then they called all of my parents to my fourth-grade students and told them, as well,” Hamilton said.
Ennis declined to appear on TODAY, citing a lawsuit filed by Hamilton against the school. But in a pre-recorded report filed by NBC News’ Mike Taibbi, Ennis was asked if he stood by the firing. “Yes, absolutely,” he replied.
'Didn't know it would cost me my job'
Hamilton said her problems are all the result of her being honest. A widow with five children from her first marriage, she had gotten work as a teacher at Southland Christian School in January, 2008. Meanwhile, she also met Treftz, and they planned a Feb. 20, 2009 wedding.
Three weeks before the wedding, she conceived her daughter, Sarah.
In April 2009, Hamilton and Treftz went together to Ennis and told him she would be taking maternity leave in the fall. She says Ennis first complained that it was difficult for the school to cover women on maternity leave.
“I was only requesting a standard six weeks maternity leave and as the conversation progressed, he said, ‘I’m just trying to do the math here. When did you get married?’ ” Hamilton told Curry.
“I said Feb. 20,” she continued. “He said, ‘Well, did you conceive prior to marriage?’ I answered and I told him, ‘Yes.’ ”
Hamilton said she answered partly because she was so surprised by the very personal question.
“I was absolutely shocked. It came out of nowhere. I was honest about it. I didn’t know it would cost me my job,” she said.
“Jarretta was asked not to return because of a moral issue that was disregarded, namely fornication, sex outside of marriage. The employment application, which she filled out, clearly states that as a leader before our students we require all teachers to maintain and communicate the values and purpose of our school.”
That’s a long way from saying teachers are prohibited from having premarital sex, the couple argues.
“If there was a contract in place that had a specific morality clause, I think that would make a difference,” Treftz said.
Hamilton agreed, adding, “At last people would know what they’re getting into. I didn’t know that they were going to judge so harshly; that this was the way they felt about premarital sex. I wasn’t clear what their stance was on certain issues.”
Gay, who joined the couple for the TODAY interview, said that pastors and clergy have the right to make moral decisions regarding church personnel, but this case is different because Hamilton was a teacher.
“The courts have consistently ruled that a private school is just like any other employer. As long as there’s more than 50 employees, they are governed by the law regarding discrimination,” Gay said. “The teachers are serving a secular purpose, and therefore they are governed by federal laws of discrimination.”
In the letter explaining the termination to Gay, Julie Ennis ended by asking Hamilton to give up the lawsuit.
“We request that Jarretta withdraw her complaint and consider the testimony of the Lord,” the letter concludes.