Arkansas private school sued for expelling pregnant student

TEXARKANA, Ark. � The mother of a pregnant teen is claiming the girl's civil rights were violated when she was expelled from a private Christian school. A lawsuit was filed May 19 in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas against Trinity Baptist Church doing business as Trinity Christian School, Principal Larry Berry, teacher Shannan Morgan, counselor Brad Watson and administrator Ron Fellers. The plaintiffs' names were redacted from public documents because the student involved was a minor. The suit alleges civil rights violations due to discrimination based on race, sex and pregnancy. Admission into the school requires that the student and parents sign a code of conduct that states, among other violations, that sexual misconduct will result in expulsion. The lawsuit argues the school's policy of expelling pregnant students "impacts females differently than male students based solely on their sex" and is in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act. According to the lawsuit, without the presence of the minor's parent, the principal summoned the student to his office and inquired about school rumors that she was pregnant. The complaint states that the principal intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the minor by questioning her without the presence of her mother. The plaintiff alleges that the principal's conduct "was extreme, outrageous beyond all possible bounds of decency and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." After the minor attempted to deny the rumors, the principal contacted a teacher to help with the situation. The minor admitted to the teacher that she was pregnant. The teacher then divulged the information to the principal. Consequentially, the principal expelled the minor student. The suit alleges the minor was expelled with only 11 days of school remaining. School administrators upheld the expulsion and restricted the student's final examinations until a time that that she could be tested without other students present. The complaint states that after expulsion, the principal told the teacher and the counselor to take the minor the First Choice Pregnancy Center. The pregnancy center interviewed, counseled, and tested the minor and disseminated her information to the school employees. The plaintiff argues the school was aware of previous acts of students engaging in sexual behavior and who were not expelled. Those students were allowed to remain in school, complete their education without penalty and did not require the students to submit to pregnancy tests without parental knowledge. The lawsuit accuses the school of discriminating against the plaintiff based on race and gender. Causes of action filed against the school include invasion of privacy, false imprisonment at school and in a car, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, national origin discrimination, sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and vicarious liability. Alleging false imprisonment, the minor states that "she did not believe herself entitled to leave the Principal's office without his permission and had she done so, would have subjected herself to further disciplinary actions for failure to obey the authority of the school and the principal." Further, the minor states that she was treated as if she had a communicable disease that could be caught by other students. The mother states that the school's actions and conduct caused the minor to develop behavioral problems, including depression and rebellious behavior. The plaintiffs are seeking damages for great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, shame, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life, loss of earnings, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses, expenses for psychological treatment, therapy and counseling. Within the student handbook, the school states, "Trinity Christian Schools offer high academic and distinctively Christian standards in order to help each student reach his or her God-given potential. "Trinity Christian Schools strive toward a high standard of behavior. The underlying philosophy of Trinity boldly strives to equip the student through sound biblical principles, an aggressive academic program, practical leadership skills, and a variety of Christ-like activities." Texarkana attorney Lisa Mills Wilkins of the law firm Dunn, Nutter and Morgan, LLP is representing the plaintiffs. Jury trial is demanded. U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes will preside over the litigation. Case No 4:2009cv04049

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