The pastor of a Leimert Park Catholic church testified Thursday that he and the interim principal of a school associated with the parish jointly decided not to renew the contract of a teacher, but he denied the teacher's allegations she lost her job in 2013 because she was pregnant and unmarried.
The Rev. Michael Tang said parents complained that plaintiff Kourtney Liggins was frequently late to work and sent text messages on her phone while in the classroom at Transfiguration School. He denied that he held anything against her for being pregnant and unwed, or for having children from a previous marriage that ended in divorce.
Liggins sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Transfiguration School, Tang and current principal Evelyn Rickenbacker in September 2013. She was seven months pregnant in the summer of 2012 when Tang allegedly told her that her pregnancy would "morally corrupt" impressionable teens at the school. Her lawsuit is being tried before a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
When Liggins, now 48, complained to school officials, they told her to "pray on it," according to the suit, which alleges wrongful termination in violation of public policy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.
Rickenbacker is no longer a defendant. Tang said he and Rickenbacker decided not to renew Liggins' contract for the 2013-14 school year.
Tang, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration, said that although the Catholic church frowns on women being pregnant and unmarried, "the official teachings of the Catholic Church have to be interpreted in a pastoral sense. Roughly half of the parents at the school are single parents."
Rickenbacker was preceded as Transfiguration School by Liggins' sister, Michele Yerima. Although Yerima resigned in March 2013, she remained as acting principal.
Asked by Liggins' attorney, Anthony Nguyen, why Yerima was not involved in counseling sessions with Liggins before she fired, Tang said Yerima had become "disengaged" and that she was not going to be around for the 2013-14 school year.
"I think Ms. Yerima was well aware of the problems and should have brought them up with her sister," Tang said.
Tang also said that many of the parents who started complaining about Liggins' tardiness in January 2013 did not leave their names because they feared retaliation from Yerima.
"The parents were afraid of her," Tang said. "She just had that reputation."
Tang said that one of the counseling sessions he and Rickenbacker had with Liggins to discuss the parents' complaints with her was initially scheduled to be a discussion of possible scholarships for Liggins' older children, who attended Transfiguration School. Asked by Nguyen whether he understood why Liggins was upset the discussion went into a different direction, Tang replied, "Yes."
Liggins gave birth to a girl in 2012.