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Court upholds church's firing of preschool chief for living with boyfriend

December 13, 2011 |  4:05 pm

Court: Church can fire woman living with boyfriend An appeals court has backed the decision of a Lutheran church in Tustin  to fire its unmarried preschool director for living with her boyfriend.

Sara Henry, the preschool director, sued Red Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tustin for wrongful termination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to court documents.

The 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana agreed last week with a 2010 Orange County Superior Court ruling in favor of the church. In the 2010 decision, Judge Derek W. Hunt ruled that the church was a religious institution and that Henry was fired because she violated a church precept, according to court documents.

Henry was fired in May 2009 for living with her boyfriend and raising their son together. She was married when she applied to the preschool, which is considered part of the church's ministry and not a separate legal entity. Henry, who started working at the school in 2002, later divorced and in 2007 gave birth to a child fathered by her boyfriend.

Henry was fired not because she had a child out of wedlock, but because she continued to live unmarried and in a sexual relationship with her boyfriend, according to the church. Henry continued working at the school after giving birth and told school officials she planned to get married but was not ready.

Parents talked about their disappointment over Henry's living situation, according to court documents.

Teachers at the school were required to be practicing Christians, as were the parents of students. Henry, a Catholic, "knew the school was 'Bible-based,' " according to the documents.

The church, as a religious corporation not organized for private profit, is not considered an employer under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

-- Hailey Branson-Potts