10.17.2005

Teacher of Year? Non-Morman? Girl? Utah?!?
No Class for You!

Ex-Teacher Accusing Sevier District of Discrimination

from Desert Morning News

SEVIER, Utah - When a jury is seated today in a sex and religious discrimination suit by a former English teacher against the Sevier School District, potential jurors may be asked about their religious beliefs and prejudices.

A federal judge has concluded that jurors may have to be asked their religion and if they have any prejudices regarding members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints {LDS} or if they are willing to give credence to other religious beliefs if they are LDS.

In a state in which opinions on issues are typically divided along religious lines, finding a jury that is not totally biased for or against members of the LDS faith may be a challenge, said Erik Strindberg, attorney for Erin Jensen.

It is Jensen who claims her contract as an English and speech teacher at South Sevier High School was not renewed and she was subsequently terminated because she is not of the LDS faith and also because she is a woman.

Jensen worked as a teacher for three years and, according to her suit, she consistently received high marks for her performance and was named teacher of the year. She founded the school's debate team and oversaw the publication of the school yearbook.

However, Jensen alleges that the district's five school board members and superintendent, all who are LDS, terminated her employment without offering a reason and refused to accept her application for other positions in the district.

In her suit, Jensen states that she was only one of two non-Mormon teachers on the staff, not counting special education, and she and the other non-LDS teacher were in adjacent classrooms at the end of the hallway, which was referred to as "Hell's Corner." Strindberg says that during an executive session of the Sevier School Board, Jensen was referred to as a person who practices "witchcraft," prefers Halloween as her favorite holiday, and paints her windows black, according to meeting minutes. Strindberg also points out that after the suit was filed, the school district amended the same minutes and deleted those comments, adding he plans to show to the jury both versions as a "cover-up."

Jensen also alleges the school board had a preference toward filling positions with male candidates over female candidates and that her position was filled with a male who she claims was underqualified. Strindberg said he is prepared to call former female staff members who will testify to sexist remarks and treatment of women as faculty meetings at the school.

But Kirk Gibbs, attorney for the school district, said Jensen lacks credibility and plans to offer a legitimate explanation to the jury why the minutes were amended. In court, Gibbs said he plans to show the jury evidence that Jensen was once LDS herself and that her claim of religious bias is baseless.

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