Special Needs Teacher Files Charge with EEOC after Punishment for Faith-Based Statements

ICC Note:

On May 16, Toni Richardson and her legal counsel filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the Augusta School Department, after being reprimanded for telling a fellow coworker that she would “pray for him” in a private conversation at work. A “coaching memorandum” was given to her that explained future expressions of personal faith to colleagues would result in disciplinary action. Ms. Richardson also mentioned a fear of losing her job over this dispute, but teachers should not have to worry about hiding their religious beliefs in a work environment.

05/17/2107 Augusta, ME (First Liberty Institute) – Toni Richardson, an educational technician employed by the Augusta School Department, filed charges of religious discrimination and retaliation today with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after being instructed to never use phrases like, “I will pray for you” and “you were in my prayers” in private conversations with coworkers. A copy of the charge is available here.

“What Augusta Public Schools did by punishing Toni for discussing her faith in a private conversation with a coworker is unconscionable,” said Timothy Woodcock of the Maine law firm Eaton Peabody. “The law is clear: employers cannot discriminate against employees who privately discuss their faith while at work.

Toni tried to privately encourage a coworker—with whom she attends church—by saying, “I will pray for you.” Even though the coworker thanked Toni, the Augusta Schools Department interrogated her, asking whether she had ever identified herself to coworkers as a Christian or privately told a colleague she was praying for him. Later, she received an official “coaching memorandum,” explaining that she could not use “phrases that integrate public and private belief systems” while at school. The memo specifically explains that she will face discipline or dismissal in the future for using phrases like, “I will pray for you” and “you were in my prayers” in private conversations with colleagues at work.

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