United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division
W. PHILLIPS SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
civil action is before the court for consideration of
Defendants' motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 27].
Plaintiff has filed a response, and Defendants have submitted
a reply. [Docs. 30, 32]. For the reasons that follow, the
motion will be granted.
Hiring as Teacher at Concord Christian School
March 2011, Plaintiff Tabatha Hutson applied for a teaching
position at Concord Christian School (“CCS”).
[Doc. 28-1 at 1-4]. A significant portion of the teacher
application inquired about matters relating to
Plaintiff's “Christian Background.”
[Id. at 1-2]. Plaintiff indicated on her application
that she had read the school's “Statement of
Faith” and fully supported the Statement as written.
[Id. at 2]. According to Leigh Ledet, CCS's
elementary school principal, the Statement of Faith, provided
to all new hires, stated, in relevant part:
Because [CCS] is a ministry of First Baptist Concord, our
doctrinal beliefs are a reflection of the church's
beliefs. We are unashamedly a Christian program and we make
no apologies for or compromises to our convictions. It is our
desire to present the gospel of Jesus Christ so that each
child may have the opportunity to accept Him as Lord and
Savior of his or her life[.]
[Doc. 28 at 2-3]. The Statement of Faith also contained a
list of the Church's fundamental religious beliefs.
[Id. at 3].
application, Plaintiff listed her denominational preference
as “Baptist, ” her current church affiliation as
“First Baptist Concord, ” and her pastor's
name as “Doug Sager.” [Doc. 28 at 3-4; Doc. 28-1
at 3]. The application asked what church activities Plaintiff
was involved in, and she responded that she attended services
and Bible Fellowship class every Sunday, worked in the
nursery every other Sunday, attended “The Well”
once a month, and attended “Mom to Mom” once a
month. [Doc. 28 at 4; Doc. 28-1 at 3]. The application then
asked “What other Christian service have you done since
becoming a Christian?” and Plaintiff responded that she
reached out to single moms by calling and e-mailing them to
invite them to “The Well, ” led a table at
“The Well, ” and participated in fellowship
workdays with her Sunday school class. Next, the application
asked about Plaintiff's routine of personal Bible study
and prayer, and she responded that she used Bible reading
plans every night before bed, journaled once or twice a week,
and led a daily devotion with her son each morning.
[Id.]. The application then asked for a list of
books that Plaintiff had read in the past two years that had
“helped [her] grow spiritually, ” and Plaintiff
provided several Christian book titles. [Doc. 28-1 at 3].
Finally, the application asked Plaintiff to provide a brief
summary of her “Christian testimony.” Plaintiff
responded that she considered herself a “baby
Christian, ” as she had been raised Catholic but
converted to Baptist in 2005. Plaintiff indicated that, at
the time of her conversion, she “felt the Holy Spirit
pull at [her], ” she “prayed and asked God to
take [her] whole life, ” and she “gave Him [her]
heart and made Him Lord of [her] life.” [Doc. 28 at
4-5; Doc. 28-1 at 3].
teacher application included a “Declaration of Moral
Integrity, ” which stated that CCS “expects all
of its employees to model the same Christian values and
lifestyle that it seeks to inculcate in its students.”
[Doc. 28 at 5; Doc. 28-1 at 4]. The declaration continued on
to say that the applicant declared that the applicant had
not, in the past year, engaged in, was not currently engaging
in, and committed, during her term of employment not to
engage in “inappropriate sexual conduct, ” which
the declaration defined to include “heterosexual
activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex,
cohabitation, and extramarital sex)[.]” Plaintiff
signed the declaration. [Id.].
August 1, 2011, Plaintiff was hired as a kindergarten teacher
at CCS. [Doc. 28 at 6]. As part of her new hire paperwork,
Plaintiff signed a statement that she committed “to
conduct [her]self in a manner that demonstrates a Christ-like
attitude in performing all position responsibilities in order
to exalt our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
[Id.; Doc. 28-2]. Thereafter, Plaintiff was employed
through a series of contracts beginning in August of a school
year and ending in June of the following year. [Doc. 28 at
6]. Her last contract was from August 2016 to June 2017, at
which point she was assigned to teach second grade.
CCS Policies in 2016-2017 School Year
2016, Plaintiff signed a “Letter of Commitment for
Employment” for the 2016-2017 school year. [Doc. 28-3
at 1]. This letter stated that CCS “is unique in that
it is a Christian school and is committed to maintain in the
framework of Christian principles and high educational
standards” and that “it is the policy of [CCS] to
employ highly qualified Employees who support Christian
education in pursuit of such high educational
standards.” The letter noted that the employee may be
suspended or discharged for good cause, including “any
conduct not in keeping with the Christian faith[.]”
2016-2017 Faculty/Staff Handbook (“the
Handbook”), stated that the mission of CCS “is to
lead students to connect with Christ, grow in faith, and
serve with conviction, making a world of difference.”
[Doc. 28 at 10; Doc. 28-4 at 6]. Within the section labeled
“Concord Christian School Philosophy, ” the
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. At the heart
of the Christian philosophy of education is the
acknowledgement that God created all things and that they
exist by His power and for His pleasure. Only through Christ
can there be a unity which gives meaning to all parts of
life. An education which fails to acknowledge God and His
work will always be woefully inadequate and incomplete.
An education which understands the nature of reality, God,
the universe, man and His purpose for existence, truth and
absolutes, must be one which teaches the Bible as
God's infallible Word and sees each student as
created in God's image for His purpose. Life is then seen
as contributing to God's purpose and man's ultimate
goal is to know and obey God.
[CCS] endeavors to give a completely God-centered
orientation of life to each student. It strives to help
produce the mind of Christ in its students and to establish a
well-grounded, biblical world view. Academics are not a
means of self-promotion or pride but a way of increasing
one's awareness of God and being useful in His kingdom.
Christians should excel in all subject areas because they put
Christ first and see their work as unto the Lord and not unto
The ultimate responsibility of educating a child has been
given to the parents. [CCS] operates as an extension of and
partner with the home and church in training children to
be godly, and also focuses on developing the whole
child: spiritually, academically, athletically, creatively,
[Doc. 28 at 10-11; Doc. 28-4 at 6 (emphasis added)].
Handbook also contained several commitment statements on
behalf of the administration, staff, and congregation of
First Baptist Concord. [Doc. 28 at 6-7; Doc. 28-4 at 7-8].
The commitment statements announced that CCS “is a
ministry of First Baptist Concord, ” and is
“unashamedly a Christian program” that
“make[s] no apologies for or compromise to [its]
convictions.” [Doc. 28 at 6-7; Doc. 28-4 at 8]. This
section also stated that “[i]t is our desire to present
the gospel of Jesus Christ so that each child may have the
opportunity to accept Him as Lord and Savior of his or her
life.” [Doc. 28 at 7; Doc. 28-4 at 8]. The
Handbook's commitment statements further stated that CCS
intended to recruit and retain employees who:
1. Profess to and live the example of a child of God, saved
by the atoning death of His Son, our Lord and ...