"Pennsylvania Christian School Fires Teacher For Having A Disability, Blames Her Gay Son"
The Covenant Christian Academy in Harrisburg, PA believes that “the practice of same-sex relations is a sin and that promotion of such a lifestyle is a sin,” and they’re now using that belief to justify the firing of a teacher.
When Sharon Wright’s son announced on Facebook during his senior year (2009) at the school that he was gay, he was indefinitely suspended and not allowed to return to the school. This created an interesting dilemma for Wright, who was a teacher at the school. She continued to teach there despite her support for her son, but endured comments from school administrators like, “your son is broken, and it’s your job to fix him” and that this was a “battle for his soul.” The ongoing stress of the situation exacerbated her mental health diagnoses of “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood” and impaired her “thinking, concentrating, interacting with others, and sleeping.”
Wright requested a medical leave of absence in January 2010 for her disability, which was granted. She insisted that she could resume the duties of full-time teaching for the following school year provided future medical leave be accommodated, if needed. The school, however, tried to impose an involuntary sabbatical because she “needed a year to heal.” Rejecting Wright’s request for intermittent medical leave, Covenant was not rehired for a full-time position for the following year. Now, she has filed suit in federal court claiming that she was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The school argues that they did not rehire Wright because of a letter she ultimately wrote in May 2010 criticizing its anti-gay policy, calling her suit a “personal vendetta” that attacks the school’s “constitutionally protected religious doctrine.” Of course, her suit does not address the school’s anti-gay policy whatsoever, but it does point out that the recommendation to not hire her preceded the letter she wrote. Covenant denies almost every claim Wright makes in the suit.
No doubt, the academy’s anti-gay policy and its treatment of Wright’s son are odious. But now it seems the school is using that policy to justify discriminating against one of its teachers. Though the school did not accuse her of violating its tenants in her capacity as a teacher, she endured an environment so hostile that it impacted her mental well-being. Ultimately, the school used that as justification for her termination. If the anti-gay policy was directly to blame, there is little explanation for the school’s unsatisfactory offers of part-time work or a year-long sabbatical. It seems more likely that Covenant simply didn’t want a teacher who loved her gay son.