California teacher says Bright Horizons fired her for exercising her religious beliefs

LOS ANGELES (RNS) – A Southern California teacher has sued Bright Horizons Children’s Center, an international child care program, alleging religious discrimination after saying she was fired for refusing to read books for children promoting gay marriage.

Nelli Parisenkova, who was an associate teacher at Bright Horizons in Studio City for four years, said she was a devout Christian and her religious beliefs taught her that “marriage is a sacred covenant divinely instituted by God as a union between life between a man and a woman ”, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday, October 13 in the Superior Court of the county of Los Angeles.

Parisenkova is represented by the Thomas More Society. Bright Horizons did not respond to a request for comment. The suit alleges religious discrimination, wrongful termination, religious-based harassment and retaliation. She seeks compensatory damages for future loss of income and the cost of finding other employment.

Among the books with which Parisenkova contested were: “Mom, Mom and Me”, “Dad, Dad and Me” and “Love Makes a Family”.

“Reading such books to children would violate his religious beliefs and promote intimate relationships and choices contrary to the teachings of his faith,” the lawsuit states.

On a hot day in early April when the children couldn’t go out, Parisenkova said she felt compelled to read the books promoting same-sex marriage and same-sex parenthood to children. Five of the 12 available books contained such content, according to the lawsuit.

While the children were napping, Parisenkova claimed she asked a head teacher if it was okay to remove those particular books. The teacher agreed but then reported the interaction to the Bright Horizons site manager, according to the claim.

Bright Horizons headquarters in Newton, Massachusetts on May 14, 2022. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia/Creative Commons

The request to have the book taken down angered the director, who told Parisenkova that “if you can’t celebrate with us, then Bright Horizons is no place for you,” the lawsuit states. Parisenkova was then informed that she had to leave the center immediately, received an administrative memorandum and was escorted by a security guard. Without an immediate route, she claimed to have waited outside in 96-degree heat for 45 minutes.

Parisenkova submitted a written request for religious accommodation which was denied.

Bright Horizons then issued another memo demanding that Parisenkova undergo training, to, as the teacher noted in the claim, “comply with the company’s policy of promoting same-sex marriage and same-sex parenthood.” . Failure to “celebrate diversity” would be grounds for “disciplinary action up to and including termination,” according to the suit.

At the end of her administrative leave, Parisenkova asked to extend the term of her employment while negotiations for her request for religious accommodation were underway. Parisenkova never received an explanation as to why other colleagues couldn’t read the books for her, she said in the lawsuit.

According to the claim, in late April, Parisenkova told Bright Horizons that “she could not return to work because her request for religious accommodation was denied, but she was not resigning from her job” and that Bright Horizons had terminated his employment as a result.

Ruth R. Culp