Fired teacher loses bias suit

She says she lost her job because she is not LDS

A jury Monday night unanimously rejected a former teacher’s claim that she lost her job at Sevier School District because she is a woman and a non-Mormon.

The jury of eight women and four men reached its decision after a six-day trial and about 9 1/2 hours of deliberation. Erin Jensen and her attorneys declined comment after the verdict.

Kirk Gibbs, an attorney for the school district and its officials, said the verdict was appropriate. He said testimony showed that Superintendent Brent Thorne “is a good man. His history, his actions and behavior toward different religions is what really carried the day.”

Jurors declined to comment.

During closing arguments Monday, Jensen’s attorney, Erik Strindberg said school district officials used code when discussing the English teacher and her lessons on different belief systems.

Strindberg alleged that district officials and parents who gossiped about the teacher’s affection for Halloween and theories that she was a witch were really saying Jensen was different – a non-Mormon. And that difference, plus her gender, led to her losing her job at South Sevier High School in Monroe, he said in the closing day of a trial on Jensen’s discrimination suit against the district and its officials.

“She’s not a witch, we know that,” Strindberg told members of the U.S. District Court panel, adding, “These are code words. She’s different. That’s religious discrimination.”

Gibbs fired back that Jensen herself was trying to incite bias to support unfounded allegations.

“There have been appeals made to prejudice in this case,” Gibbs said.

He said Jensen and her attorneys have tried to portray members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rural Utahns as small-minded and religiously bigoted. In reality, Thorne is tolerant of all faiths and made the decision to lay off Jensen as part of a staff reduction based on legitimate reasons, including declining test scores, Gibbs said.

Jensen filed a lawsuit after her teaching contract was not renewed at the end of the 2002-2003 school year, claiming religious and gender discrimination. The former teacher – who testified that she was raised a Mormon but has no religion and is not a witch – was seeking back pay and unspecified damages.

Evidence showed that school officials talked about rumors circulating that Jensen was a witch and even kept blood in a refrigerator, Strindberg said.

inutes of one district board meeting showed discussion on how the teacher supposedly liked Halloween and preferred the “dark side,” he pointed out.

District officials denied all allegations and said they were concerned about the test scores and Jensen’s teaching of core curriculum.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Oct. 25, 2005
Pamela Manson

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday October 25, 2005.
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