Texas Teacher Fired for Unwed Pregnancy Offered to Get Married

Cathy Samford was fired when she became pregnant and was not married.

April 11, 2012, 10:09 AM

April 11, 2012 — -- A teacher and coach at a private Christian school in Texas fired for an unwed pregnancy wants to set the record straight about who she is for those who question her fitness as a "Christian role model."

"I'm not just some teacher that went out to a bar and go pregnant and went back to school saying it's okay," Cathy Samford told ABCNews.com today. "I was in a committed relationship the whole time and probably would have been married if things had gone differently and this would be a non-situation."

Samford, 29, was in her third year as a volleyball coach at Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Tex., and her first year as a middle school science teacher when she discovered she was pregnant in the fall of 2011.

She and her fiance had been planning to get married at the end of the summer, but a series of events had delayed the wedding.

Samford said she never dreamed she would be fired for her pregnancy and went into her conversations with the school thinking their biggest concern would be her missing part of the basketball season since she was supposed to coach.

When she was told she was being terminated, Samford was "totally shocked."

"I didn't think I would lose my job," Samford said. "I was in shock and devastated and that's when I said, 'If this is the problem, I'm willing, and so is my fiancé, to go ahead and get married. That wasn't the issue. We were going to get married regardless."

The school denied her offer.

"We had the feeling that because kids on her volleyball team and kids in her classes knew she was pregnant, it really wouldn't have changed anything," the school's headmaster Dr. Ron Taylor told ABCNews.com. "It doesn't change that her behavior was out of wedlock."

Taylor said that when the school became aware of the situation, they felt they had no choice but to terminate her.

"It's not that she's pregnant. The issue here is being an unmarried mother," Taylor said. "Everything that we stand for says that we want our teachers, who we consider to be in the ministry, to model what a Christian man or woman should be."

Samford, who has two children from a previous marriage, maintains that she did not violate her contract in any way and that the contract's clauses about being a "Christian role model" are vague.

"It was not a decision that we took lightly because we love Cathy and her two kids that were here and wish her nothing but the best," Taylor said. "Were we a public school, this would not have been an issue. But it's different in a Christian school."

Samford's attorney Colin Walsh disagrees.

"It's against the law to fire someone for them taking a pregnancy leave and you can't preventatively fire someone. You can't contract around anti-discrimination laws," Walsh told ABCNews.com. "Just being generally religious or upholding Christian values is not enough to evoke the ministerial exception."

Walsh and Samford have filed a charge of gender and pregnancy discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and are preparing a lawsuit against the school.

"She's seeking a fair resolution," Walsh said. "She feels that she has been treated unfairly by this school and she'll look for the least that will compensate." He would not disclose the specifics of the "resolution" Samford is seeking.

Similar cases that involve religion and pregnancy are playing out around the country.

In Florida, pregnant fourth-grade teacher Jarretta Hamilton was allegedly fired after the principal of her non-denominational Christian school discovered that the baby was conceived before she got married. Her case is currently being heard by an appeals court in Atlanta.

In Ohio, a federal judge has green-lighted a trial for Catholic school teacher Christa Dias' lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati after she was fired in 2010 for becoming pregnant through artificial insemination.

"If anyone can say they're a Christian organization and therefore not subject to federal and state decisions, then there's no point in having those laws," Walsh said.

For now, with her baby due April 19 and two other young children to support, Samford is trying to make ends meet and is applying for jobs.

"I'm very worried about money. I'm just hoping to make it through this month. I've had lots of medical bills. My insurance was dropped so everything I've had to pay is out of pocket," she said. "I'm using my tax return just to live on. It's a big concern. I don't know what next month holds for me."

She said her students, volleyball team members and their parents have been largely supportive and miss her at school.

"They know me. I'm not someone who goes out and parties and is crazy and gives bad advice, trying to lead them in a certain direction," Samford said. "It just kind of hurts my heart a little bit."