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May 16, 4:38 PM EDT

School tech: Employer wrong to reprimand me over prayer talk


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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- A high school worker filed a federal complaint Tuesday against her school district, saying officials were being discriminatory when they reprimanded her for telling a co-worker that she'd pray for him.

Toni Richardson, a special education technician, contends she was "interrogated" by school officials about the remark in which she intended to offer encouragement to a colleague who goes to her church. She was later warned against using "phrases that integrate public and private belief systems."

"The school reprimanded me because my words, spoken privately to a colleague, involved religious content," she wrote in her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Augusta Schools Superintendent James Anastasio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Richardson is seeking to have the reprimand rescinded and for the school district to make clear to employees that there's nothing wrong with discussing their faith in private conversations, said her attorney Jeremy Dys.

"No one should be threatened with losing their job for privately telling a co-worker, 'I will pray for you,'" said Dys, who works for the First Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based organization dedicated to religious liberties. "School employees are not required to hide their faith from each other while on campus."

The EEOC has several options, including telling the school district to stop discriminating, ordering mediation for both parties or taking no position and allowing a lawsuit to be filed, Dys said.

Also representing Richardson is a Maine law firm, Eaton Peabody, whose attorney Timothy Woodcock called the school district's actions "unconscionable."

"The law is clear: Employers cannot discriminate against employees who privately discuss their faith while at work," Woodcock said.

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