Chronicle of Higher Education…

Professor Sues Baptist Seminary, Saying She Was Dismissed Because of Her Gender

Monday, March 12, 2007

A former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has sued the institution and its president, L. Paige Patterson, contending she was fired because of her gender. She is seeking damages for breach of contract, fraud, and defamation.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Tex., last week, the professor, Sheri L. Klouda, alleged that Mr. Patterson informed her that “he would not renew her contract to teach or recommend her for tenure based solely upon the fact that she was a woman.”

The suit states, “According to Dr. Patterson, women are prohibited from teaching or ruling in any capacity over men, based on his interpretation of Scripture. Upon his acceptance of the presidency at Southwestern, Dr. Patterson had publicly expressed his objective to build Southwestern’s faculty with ‘God-called men.'”

Ms. Klouda was appointed an assistant professor of Old Testament languages at Southwestern’s School of Theology in the spring of 2002. At that time, the suit says, she was the only female member of the School of Theology’s 40-member faculty. When Mr. Patterson took over as the seminary’s president in the summer of 2003, the complaint adds, he “personally assured her that the administration change — his appointment — would not jeopardize her appointment.”

But in April 2006, according to the lawsuit, she learned that her contract would not be renewed. “Dr. Klouda was told that she was ‘a mistake that the trustees needed to fix,'” the lawsuit asserts. She is now an assistant professor of Old Testament studies at Taylor University, in Upland, Ind.

A spokesman for Southwestern, Jon J. Zellers, said via e-mail on Sunday that “since this is an active and open legal case, we will not be making comment.”

In an e-mail message to The Chronicle, Ms. Klouda said she “firmly believed that excellent work both in the classroom and the academy would define me, and that I would be evaluated fairly in light of my scholarly accomplishments and congeniality. Consequently, I am saddened that it became necessary to file this suit, and disappointed that we were not able to resolve this matter fairly and privately.”

Ms. Klouda expressed concern that her academic career would suffer as a result of the suit. “I was afraid to take legal action because it seems as if it is an unspoken yet well-known assumption that filing suit against a former employer always reflects negatively on a potential faculty candidate.” But, she said, “I have the urgent needs of my family to consider. They have suffered a great deal in the last year.”

It was unclear how the suit against Southwestern might differ from other discrimination cases in which courts have, under a legal principle known as ministerial exception, declined to interfere in the administrative dealings of religious organizations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit cited that principle last year in dismissing a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former female chaplain against Gannon University, in Pennsylvania, saying the exception “bars any inquiry into a religious organization’s underlying motivation for the contested employment decision” (The Chronicle, September 8, 2006).

The Chronicle was unable to reach Ms. Klouda’s attorney, Gary L. Richardson, of the Richardson Law Firm in Tulsa, Okla., for comment on Sunday.

In a development related to Ms. Klouda’s case, a Baptist minister in Texas has filed complaints against the seminary with the Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Rev. Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex., has written to both associations asking them to investigate “what appears to be a serious breach of the accreditation guidelines for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”

Mr. Cole provided The Chronicle with copies of those letters. In them, he cites “considerable evidence” that Ms. Klouda “was denied the process [of tenure review] on the basis of unenumerated criteria and gender bias, which constitutes a violation of the tenure-policy guidelines adopted by the seminary trustees and governing the institution.”

His letters also note that the seminary “has already, in the recent past, faced investigations and citations for its failure to meet accreditation guidelines.” In 1995, for instance, the seminary was put on probation for two years, in part because of concerns about its treatment of former president Russell Dilday, who was fired in 1994, and other faculty members (The Chronicle, February 17, 1995).

Ms. Klouda’s case has already generated a good deal of comment in the Baptist blogosphere. Mr. Cole has posted comments about it on his Web site, Baptist Blogger, where he has criticized Mr. Patterson in previous posts. And the Rev. Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, posted an extensive defense of Ms. Klouda and her “conservative credentials” earlier this year on his blog, Grace and Truth to You.

In his post, Mr. Burleson discussed the debate over a passage of Scripture, I Timothy 2:12, that some interpreters have taken to mean that women should not minister to men. He raised the question of whether such an interpretation might have been a motivation for Ms. Klouda’s dismissal, even though she was not teaching theology, but Old Testament languages.

“What bothers me is the extraordinarily restrictive views of certain leaders in our convention regarding women,” Mr. Burleson commented. “This is not about ‘being a pastor’ of a church. … This is all about the belief among some that women should not have authority over men, whether it be in the home, the church, a business, or society in general.”

Summary so far, and more to come…

Paige Patterson’s 2002-2003 Travel Expenses — PP Travel 2002-2003

Paige Patterson’s Fiscal Irresponsibility — Financial Statement

Paige Patterson’s CP-provided taxidermy — Emerson’s Taxidermy.

Paige Patterson’s $7,775.00 dinnerware — Magnolia Hill Plates

Paige Patterson’s $67,000.00? portrait — Portrait

Paige Patterson’s dead dog — Tombstone

Dorothy Patterson’s 2002-2003 Travel Expenses — DP Travel

Cost to refurnish SEBTS Presidential Home after Paige & Dorothy Patterson plundered it — $106,996.55