Fired Catholic School Teacher Awarded $3.57 Million

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former Leimert Park Catholic school teacher who sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging she was fired for being pregnant and unwed, was awarded $3.57 million by a jury today. 

The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for less than a day before finding in favor of Kourtney Liggins, who was a science teacher at Transfiguration School, in her lawsuit that alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury found both the archdiocese and the Rev. Michael Tang, the former pastor of Church of the Transfiguration, liable for Liggins' damages. The panel additionally found that Tang acted with malice, oppression or fraud, setting up a second phase of trial to begin Thursday on whether he should be ordered to pay Liggins any punitive damages. 

Tang testified that he and the current Transfiguration School principal, Evelyn Rickenbacker, jointly decided in June 2013 not to renew Liggins' contract for the coming school year based in part on complaints by parents about her tardiness and phone calls. Liggins testified her tardiness was due in part to the nursing of her newborn daughter and that any phone conversations she had in the classroom were directly related to inquiries by parents about their students. 

Liggins sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Transfiguration School and Tang in September 2013. She says she was seven months pregnant in the summer of 2012 when Tang told her that her pregnancy would ``morally corrupt'' impressionable teens at the school. When Liggins, now 48, complained to a bishop and a school official, they did little, according to the plaintiff. Liggins testified her firing had an immediate emotional impact on her.

``It was devastating,'' Liggins said. 

``I had no employment and I still had to take care of things that still needed being taken care of.''Liggins, who has older children from another relationship, said she could only afford to have one of them continue in Catholic school and the rest had to attend public schools. She also said she struggled to find work, doing some substitute teaching and taking other jobs outside the teaching field. 

Liggins said that before she was fired, she wrote Transfiguration's human resources department to voice her complaints about Tang. But the bishop told Liggins, ``It is very difficult to get rid of pastors and I should pray on it,'' she said. Liggins said she notified her sister, Michele Yerima -- who was the Transfiguration School principal until her March 2013 resignation -- that nursing her daughter was the reason being her being late to class. Liggins also said that while her phone calls were work-related, she believed it would be proper to take a personal call if it was an emergency. 

Liggins said she continued to attend Mass at Transfiguration Church for a time after she was fired because the church had been a part of her life for so long. But she said the stress and memories ultimately forced her to start going to another parish.

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