Preschool teacher fired over pregnancy
Winchester — Tiarra Dawson loved teaching preschool and was taking college classes in early childhood education to further her career.
But last week, Dawson was fired from her job at Greenway Daycare and Preschool because she was six weeks pregnant but not married.
“I thought I was doing the right thing telling them I was pregnant,” said Dawson, 20, of Winchester. “But I was told to get married or to find a new job. That’s discrimination.”
Off Tasker Road in Stephens City, the preschool is affiliated with Greenway Spirit and Word Fellowship, a Southern Baptist denomination with about 500 members.
Dawson wasn’t fired because she was pregnant, said the Rev. Robert Vineyard, pastor of Greenway. Dawson couldn’t stay in her job because she was violating the moral code of the church by having sex before marriage.
“The day care is a mission of the church and employees must abide by the Christian values of our church,” he said. “We hold our employees to a higher biblical standard, and the Bible clearly tells us that sex outside of marriage is wrong.”
He said two “irate” parents have withdrawn their children from the preschool because they thought Dawson had been treated unfairly.
Kim Harshaw has been taking her 4-year-old to Greenway Daycare for a year, but she said last week she was thinking about withdrawing him because of Dawson’s dismissal.
“I don’t agree with it at all,” said Harshaw, who lives in Stephens City. “This is a young girl who needs a support system. How can you be a Christian and help people and they’re not helping that girl?”
But Vineyard said he won’t be swayed by the court of public opinion. “Political correctness for a genuine Christian is a moot point,” he said.
If Dawson wants to argue that she is being discriminated against, she might find it a tough battle to win.
Religious organizations are exempt from discrimination laws and can fire employees for violating their ethical standards, said Douglas Laycock, professor of constitutional law at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Because Greenway is affiliated with a church, it is legally allowed to employ — or not employ — anyone it wishes.
“The day care is entitled to discriminate on the basis of religion,” Laycock said. “It is not entitled to discriminate on the basis of sex and pregnancy, so you can see the problem.”
Some religious organizations require employees to sign a contract with a morals clause, a provision that prohibits certain behavior in the employee’s private life, he said.
Dawson was not required to sign a contract, but Vineyard said all Greenway employees are given a guide outlining the ethical values of the church. “Everybody gets it, everybody reads it,” Vineyard said.
Dawson said she was aware that the day care administration would not be happy with her pregnancy, so she told the director when she was just a few weeks pregnant. That way, she said, she could look for work before she was months along in her pregnancy.
She said she was abruptly fired in front of the students in her class.
“I wouldn’t have left those children like that. I was very close to my children,” Dawson said. “I left footprints on my children, and they left their footprints on me.”
Within a couple of days of being fired from Greenway, Dawson had found a job at another nearby day care center. This one is not affiliated with a church.
— Contact Robyn Fontes Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org