A sister of a woman who alleges she was fired as a teacher from a Leimert Park Catholic school in 2013 because she was pregnant and unmarried defended her sibling’s character Wednesday and said the church pastor at the time created a divisive atmosphere at the school.
Michele Yerima said she served for several years as principal at Transfiguration School and that many of her family members had attended the campus and parish over the decades.
“Transfiguration was like a family,” Yerima said.
Yerima’s sister, plaintiff Kourtney Liggins, sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Transfiguration School, the Rev. Michael 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.
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.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cunningham told jurors before Wednesday’s testimony that the parties had agreed to dismiss Rickenbacker as a defendant.
Yerima said she hired her sister at Transfiguration and that her sibling’s job duties grew from being a substitute teacher to a member of the full-time teaching staff. Liggins had a good relationship with both parents and her eighth grade students, all of whom went on to success at prominent high schools, Yerima said.
But Yerima said that the atmosphere changed when the Rev. Michael Tang was hired to replace the previous Transfiguration pastor. Tang gradually chipped away at Yerima’s authority and sent her to other parishes to try and recruit young Asians to come to Transfiguration, Yerima said.
Yerima said she did not mind opening the school’s doors to other ethnic groups, but believed that targeting just one group was wrong.
Yerima said that while she had a good rapport with the previous pastor — who had convinced her to leave her job at Locke High School to become the Transfiguration principal — Tang was steadfast in his beliefs and showed little willingness to hear from those who had different points of view.
“He wouldn’t listen, he just said this was how it was going to be,” Yerima said.
Some of Tang’s orders “came out of nowhere” and he started reducing her authority, said Yerima, who left the school in June 2013.
“Father Tang did not want me to write any checks,” Yerima said. “He wanted to approve them first.”
Liggins eventually gave birth to a girl in 2012. She alleges the school barred her boyfriend, the child’s father, from the school grounds and that she herself was fired in June 2013.