Husband-And-Wife Teachers Say They Were Fired For Being Jehovah's Witnesses
Religion is as central to the lives of many workers as work itself.
So elementary school teachers Kristine and Gerardo Rosales notified their principal Holly Bell at the Orange River Elementary in Fort Myers, Fla., that they couldn't attend a mandatory school event celebrating Christmas back in 2010. Their reason? Being Jehovah's Witnesses prohibits the married couple from marking the holiday. They made the decision to sit out in spite of a harsh warning from Bell to all the faculty.
The principal allegedly demanded that all faculty participate in the Christmas event, saying "I don't care what religion you are," the couple claims.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act bans employers from discriminating against employees or potential employees on religious grounds, unless the employer can show it can't "reasonably accommodate" a "religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business."
In their lawsuit, first reported on by the Naples Daily News, the Rosaleses contend that the rationale given to Gerardo for his not being rehired, that there was a "reduction in force," was simply not true.
"The Rosaleses do not object to anyone or the children participating in a Christmas event," their lawyer, Paul Reid, told AOL Jobs. "They are not crusaders. They simply want to teach."
Right now, the Rosales are "doing odd jobs," according to their lawyer, and are hoping to find another teaching job. (They declined to be interviewed.)
But, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, just holding the Christmas event would put the school on shaky legal ground.
"Public schools should not be holding religious events, much less compulsory ones, much less ones in which faculty are forced to attend," Richard Bilbao, a spokesman for the ACLU of Florida, told the Naples Daily News.
The couple began working as teachers at Orange River back in 2008, and in their lawsuit, they say that they've always received positive performance reviews.
The incident involving the school assembly was just one of a handful of alleged incidents mentioned by the Rosaleses in their lawsuit. They also say that their positive relationship with Bell took a turn for the frosty only after the principal first learned of her teachers' faith when they took a day off in August 2010 to attend a Jehovah's Witness convention.
And they say that things got so cold that Bell never even responded to an email in which they explained why they couldn't attend the Christmas event. Ever since, Bell has refused to "engage in any meaningful communication or interaction," their lawsuit contends.
For its part, the school district has said that it refuses to comment on pending litigation, according to the Naples Daily News. But it did confirm that Bell is still the principal at the elementary school.
Workers who are Jehovah's Witnesses have been successful in receiving payments from religious discrimination lawsuits.
Last year, for instance, the department store company, Belk Inc., agreed to pay Myra Jones-Abid $55,000 in settling her religious discrimination lawsuit. She was fired back in 2008 from her retail job in Raleigh, N.C., for refusing to don a Santa hat and apron during the holiday season. The reason she gave? Because she's a Jehovah's Witness, she was prohibited from wearing the attire.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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