Jury awards teacher fired by Catholic school $3.57 million in damages

Science teacher at Transfiguration School in Los Angeles alleged she was fired for being pregnant and unwed, school argued she was terminated for other reasons

(image from NBC Los Angeles)

A former Leimert Park Catholic school teacher who sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging she was fired for being pregnant and unwed, was awarded $3.57 million by a jury today.

The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for less than a day before finding in favor of Kourtney Liggins, who was a science teacher at Transfiguration School, in her lawsuit that alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The jury found both the archdiocese and the Rev. Michael Tang, the former pastor of Church of the Transfiguration, liable for Liggins’ damages.

The panel additionally found that Tang acted with malice, oppression or fraud, setting up a second phase of trial to begin Thursday on whether he should be ordered to pay Liggins any punitive damages.

Tang testified that he and the current Transfiguration School principal, Evelyn Rickenbacker, jointly decided in June 2013 not to renew Liggins’ contract for the coming school year based in part on complaints by parents about her tardiness and phone calls.

Liggins testified her tardiness was due in part to the nursing of her newborn daughter and that any phone conversations she had in the classroom were directly related to inquiries by parents about their students.

Liggins sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Transfiguration School and Tang in September 2013. She says she was seven months pregnant in the summer of 2012 when Tang told her that her pregnancy would “morally corrupt” impressionable teens at the school.

Liggins, who has older children from another relationship, said she could only afford to have one of them continue in Catholic school and the rest had to attend public schools. She also said she struggled to find work, doing some substitute teaching and taking other jobs outside the teaching field.

Liggins said she notified her sister, Michele Yerima — who was the Transfiguration School principal until her March 2013 resignation – that nursing her daughter was the reason being her being late to class. Liggins also said that while her phone calls were work-related, she believed it would be proper to take a personal call if it was an emergency.

Liggins said she continued to attend Mass at Transfiguration Church for a time after she was fired because the church had been a part of her life for so long. But she said the stress and memories ultimately forced her to start going to another parish.

Full story at The LA Sentinel.

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Comments

  1. So much for being an at-will employment state. So much for contract law. Seems pretty clear cut to me that the archdiocese did nothing wrong, neither morally nor legally. There is no guarantee of having a teacher’s employment contract renewed at the end of the academic year, nor does the teacher have a right to continue in the job. The jury award is ridiculous.

    • Tom Byrne says:

      Craig:
      I am a long-time Catholic school employee, and there are a lot of bumbling managers in the system, from bishops down to principals, who think that being private exempts them from following labor law and standard HR practices. I don’t know how this woman’s contract was written, but whatever you write in a contract (or work agreement) you have to respect. Was there a specific morals clause related to Catholic teaching? Did management follow the set Archdiocesan process for dismissal? Did they simply refuse to issue a contract (which you generally don’t have to defend) or did they give cause (which can require you to defend)? Did they fail to enforce the morals clause year after year, granting a de facto exemption? My…

    • Anonymous says:

      When I taught in Catholic schools in California, the employment agreement was always for one academic year, there was a morals clause, and the agreement stipulated that employment for the year does not imply nor guarantee that employment will be continued the following year even if performance is satisfactory, and furthermore the agreement also stated that employment could be terminated at any time by the employer or the teacher for any reason, with or without notice, with or without cause, because California is an at-will state. I don’t see how the teacher won this lawsuit and was given such a large award, except perhaps the jurors were idiots or wanted to stick it to the church.

  2. Salvatore Manella says:

    This is only at the initial trial level. There is nothing mentioned whether thete wull be an appeal.

    It would be surprising if tha Archdiocese opts to forego the appellate process.

  3. Add this to the tally of funds used for things other than carrying out the Church’s mission.

    Of course, there will be requests for special collections from the faithful to make up for the deficits.

    Good job everyone on great management!

  4. There’s the story that gets told in the Media, then there’s what really happened.

  5. Linda Maria says:

    And good, devout Catholic parents work so hard, maybe take on extra work, and save and do all they can– to send their beloved children to Catholic schools — like this one!! How AWFUL!!

  6. $3.57 million?! Aaron Bianco, call your office.

  7. A devout member who would not be honored for a job is such a bad idea. Better to transfer her in other assignment as long as it works fine with both parties interest on the line.

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