May 9, 2012 — -- A Colorado woman claims she was unfairly fired from her job at a private, Christian liberal arts university after administrators asked if she was "living in sin" with her boyfriend.
Ashlie Simpson, 31, was a student service advisor at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo., from September 2009 until January 2012 when she was terminated.
"I was shocked to learn that CCU was concerned about my personal life, and even more distressed when they chose to fire me because of it," Simpson told ABC news. "When they refused to discuss it further, I felt I had no choice but to take legal action."
Simpson's attorney, Elwyn Schaefer, said a coffee break may have sparked offensive questions about his client and her lifestyle by university staff.
"We believe she was penalized for her lifestyle, mainly living with her boyfriend," Schaefer said. "We had attempted to approach [the university] prior to filing a lawsuit and were told the usual, that our case had no merit and they would defend it vigorously of course."
The suit, filed on May 2 with the Denver County District Court, states that Simpson and a married, male enrollment counselor had gotten coffee and donuts in the same car in June 2010; that incident led the vice president of development to express concern to Simpson about her alleged relationship with that married coworker – one Simpson said never existed --- and subsequent questions about her personal life up until she was fired.
That same day, the vice president told Simpson that he had discussed the "alleged relationship" with three of his team members, who had witnessed Simpson and the counselor "laughing and joking together in the office," according to the filing.
The vice president stated that Simpson was a "distraction to [the counselor's] marriage" and the "perception of indiscretion and disregard for the sanctity of Christian marriage" would hinder her career progression at the university, the suit stated.
Steve Miller, university counsel, said, "these are just false allegations."
"As you know, anybody can sue anybody for anything," Miller told ABC News. "We have an ample record demonstrating that she was let go for purely business reasons because she wasn't doing her job and she has chosen to [file a lawsuit]. That's about all we can say at this point."
Later, health problems caused Simpson to miss work, the suit states, but the university did not allow her to have the appropriate leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which can provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
In February 2011, she was diagnosed with a herniated disc, severe muscle strain and degenerative disc disorder, the suit states, and inquired with the human resources department about her intent to file for leave under the FMLA.
The human resources director then asked Simpson questions "directly related to Simpson's private life including, but not limited to, whether Simpson was living with and having sexual relations with Simpson's boyfriend," the suit states, saying "this was potential grounds for termination."
One staff member stated that it was "standard knowledge among leadership and in their VP meetings that [Simpson] was living in sin and was a situation that finally needed to be dealt with," the suit stated.
Simpson said as a student service advisor for the university's College of Adult and Graduate Studies, she assisted continuing adult students, ages 23 and older, with questions about their degree plan and courses.
"She was basically an administrative person," Schaefer said. "She has a right to live her life outside the workplace as she wishes."
Simpson is suing for damages for her lost back pay, front pay, future benefits, personal humiliation, and mental anguish.