Teacher claims she was let go because she was not a practicing Mormon, and replaced by a less-qualified instructor
In Sevier County, everyone noticed she was a coffee drinker. Co-workers looking for the sacred garments worn by church members never saw her wearing them.
Erin Jensen says those clues revealed she was not a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and led to even more talk about her beliefs.
“There were rumors around the community that I was a witch,” the former South Sevier High School teacher testified Wednesday.
The end of the hallway where she and another non-LDS teacher had classrooms was referred to by students as “Hell’s Corner.” Jensen testified she has no religion and has not been active in the LDS Church for more than 20 years.
After three years of good evaluations, district officials refused to rehire her after the 2002-2003 school year, Jensen contended. She said a less qualified male teacher who was active in the LDS Church replaced her and a second slot that opened to teach English was filled by another male Mormon.
Jensen gave her testimony during a trial of her lawsuit accusing Sevier School District officials of discriminating against her because of her gender and her non-membership in the LDS Church. She said the loss of her job was devastating.
“I love teaching,” she testified. “It’s not right.”
But lawyers for the district say officials were unaware of her religion and were just concerned about falling test scores and Jensen’s teaching of core curriculum such as grammar. During cross-examination, defense attorney Michael Skolnick pointed out that Jensen had put down her religious affiliation as LDS when applying to graduate school in 2001 at Brigham Young University.
But Jensen responded that her answer was based on her Mormon upbringing and was different than claiming membership in the church.
Her suit seeks back pay and unspecified damages. On Wednesday, Jensen said her ultimate goal was to resume her job teaching English and speech.
The trial, before a jury in U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball’s courtroom, resumes today.