FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has filed a federal lawsuit against the seminary and its president, Paige Patterson, alleging she was dismissed from her tenure-track position because she is a woman.
In the lawsuit filed March 8 in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, Sheri Klouda accuses the seminary and Patterson of breach of contract, fraud and defamation. She is seeking unspecified damages and has requested a trial by jury.
Officials at Southwestern declined to comment March 12 on the lawsuit.
Klouda received her Ph.D. at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus in 2002 and was unanimously elected by trustees to a tenure-track assistant professor position to teach Hebrew in Southwestern’s school of theology. She also is a graduate of Criswell College in Dallas.
Now a professor at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Klouda alleges in the suit that after Patterson was elected to lead the seminary in 2003, she was assured “personally and specifically” by the new president that her position as a Hebrew professor was secure. But in April 2006, according to the lawsuit, Klouda was told she could no longer teach at the seminary and that she was “a mistake that the trustees needed to fix.”
Patterson has stated that the seminary does not employ women to teach men in its school of theology out of its desire to “model the local church.” The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, adopted by a majority of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, states that the role of senior pastor in local churches should be held by men. Patterson, according to the suit, believes that same standard applies to the seminary.
Klouda taught both men and women in classes at the seminary. According to the lawsuit, “she is an accomplished theologian, who served as professor at Southwestern for almost four years, impressing students and faculty alike, until she was forced out in the spring of 2006 because of her gender.”
She is the primary provider for her family, according to the lawsuit, and has “relocated her family out of financial necessity, incurring costs and financial hardship.”
Klouda, who has refused comment on the lawsuit, is being represented by Gary Richardson of Tulsa, Okla., a former U.S. Attorney with a long history of winning large declaratory judgments.
Richardson was quoted March 9 by the Dallas Morning News as saying, “I am confident that there will be evidence to show what they did with Dr. Klouda is not consistent with any of their tenure process.” Cindy Olson Bourland of Austin, an attorney who will be assisting in the case, told the paper, “What sets this case apart is that she worked there nearly seven years, and it was only due to a change in the president’s policy that she was terminated.”
Van McClain, chairman of Southwestern’s board of trustees, was quoted in a Jan. 19 Dallas Morning News article that the seminary has returned to its “traditional, confessional and biblical position” that a woman should not instruct men in theology courses or in biblical languages.
McClain said the seminary was gracious to Klouda as she looked for a teaching position at another school. “The administration … allowed her to teach a full two years after she was told that she would not have tenure,” McClain told the newspaper, “… and the seminary even agreed to continue her support after her teaching responsibilities were over, so her family would have financial support. The seminary went far beyond anything that could be expressed as its duty or responsibility.”
McClain also told the newspaper, “I do not know of any women teaching in any of the SBC seminaries presently in the area of theology or biblical languages. In my estimation all of the seminaries have sought to be more consistent with most Southern Baptists’ understanding of Scripture on the matter.”
Klouda, contacted by the newspaper for the Jan. 19 article, said, “I don’t think it was right to hire me to do this job, to put me in the position where I, in good faith, assumed that I was working toward tenure, and then suddenly remove me without any cause other than gender.”
When Klouda was hired for the tenure-track position in 2002, Ken Hemphill was the seminary’s president. At that time, “There was not a policy where [women] would not be able to teach church history or the [biblical] languages,” Hemphill told the newspaper. Hemphill resigned as Southwestern’s president in 2003 and Patterson was selected by the trustees as his successor.
The newspaper noted that Patterson’s wife Dorothy continues to teach in Southwestern’s school of theology, with McClain explaining that she teaches courses in women’s studies that are attended only by women.
Compiled by Art Toalston.