Judge Dismisses Gender Discrimination Suit Against Baptist Seminary

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed all allegations made by a female professor who sued Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, claiming the school had removed her for gender reasons.

Judge John McBryde of the U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, granted the seminary's motion for "summary judgment" and ruled that alleged causes of action made by Sheri L. Klouda should be dismissed.

A motion for summary judgment contends that all necessary factual issues are resolved or need not be tried because they are so one-sided.

Klouda filed the lawsuit last year, alleging breach of contract, fraud and defamation. She had taught Hebrew, an Old Testament language, at the theological seminary since 2002 until her contract was terminated in December 2006. She was the only female to teach at the School of Theology, as stated in her allegations.

Seminary president Paige Patterson has said that instruction of future pastors is limited to men, although women do teach music and other classes at the school.

Klouda had been hired for the tenure-track position when Ken Hemphill was president of the seminary. Hemphill told Dallas Morning News that at that time, "there was not a policy where [women] would not be able to teach church history or the [biblical] languages." Patterson became president in 2003 after Hemphill resigned.

Klouda, who now teaches at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., claimed Patterson assured her "personally" that her tenure-track position was secure. She alleged that termination of her employment was based upon Patterson's "social and/or personal beliefs" and that she was removed without any cause other than gender.

The defendants' attorneys argued that the court had no jurisdiction because Klouda's tenure denial was on constitutionally protected religious grounds, as reported by Baptist Press.

The federal judge agreed and determined that the case was a religious matter. In his ruling, McBryde wrote that seminary faculty are "hired, assigned, advanced, tenured, evaluated, and terminated on predominantly religious criteria."

After Thursday's ruling, Patterson released a statement praising the judge's decision.

"My response is simply one of gratitude to God and to a host of people. The decision of the court has implications for all of our institutions and churches. Americans everywhere may still rejoice in freedom of faith and the ordering of their churches and institutions accordingly," he said.

Some Southern Baptist pastors have shown support for Klouda, collecting donations to help Klouda and her family during financial hardships. Southwestern trustee chairman Van McClain, however, said the seminary offered her financial support and a position as associate director of the writing center on campus with no reduction in pay or benefits before she took a position at Taylor University.

The judge on Thursday also ordered Klouda to cover the plaintiffs' court costs.

Klouda's attorney, Gary Richardson, said they may appeal the court decision.

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