A lesbian school teacher from California is suing her former school claiming her contract was not renewed because she helped LGBTI students speak out about harassment perpetrated by other teachers.
English teacher Julia Frost together with Lambda Legal filed the suit in California Superior Court this week claiming that Hesperia Unified School District and officials at Sultana High School chose not to renew her contract of employment because she had helped LGBTI students speak out over claims of harassment by other teachers. Frost also alleges that, even before her intervention, school officials created a hostile work environment because of her sexual orientation.
Frost, who was employed at Sultana High School as a probationary English teacher from August 2011 through May 2013, regularly received exemplary performance reviews despite her finding the work environment hostile. That changed, she says, after she was asked to sponsor the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance, which she duly did. Shortly after, she was given notice that her contract would be terminated. Frost also alleges she was accused of “teaching homosexuality” and “gay things.”
“Throughout her two years at Sultana High, Julia was repeatedly singled out by the principal and other top administrators, even though the actions they questioned were identical to the actions of heterosexual teachers,” Bert Voorhees of Traber & Voorhees, Lambda Legal’s co-counsel in the suit, is quoted as saying. “And yet, notwithstanding the hostile work environment these officials created, Julia was a beloved teacher who received 5 very positive performance reviews before the ACLU publicly criticized Sultana’s treatment of lesbian, gay and gender-nonconforming students.”
Regular readers may remember Care2 reporting in March about the ACLU sending a letter to Sultana and Hesperia district officials documenting how the ACLU had received complaints about the school. Those complaints claimed Sultana was actively suppressing the GSA’s speech, censoring its materials, allowing teachers to make overtly anti-LGBT statements and, among several other issues, actively dissuading students who reported anti-LGBT bullying from taking their complaints further, in some cases by threatening to out them to their parents.
At the time the school denied all these claims but has since agreed to policy changes in order to further improve on what it has maintained are its adequate policies regarding LGBT students and bullying as a whole.
Now, Frost’s suit claims she became a particular target for the school’s administration when she helped a student lodge a complaint against a teacher who the student alleges told her to “take the gay headband off” and repeatedly used the phrase “that’s so gay” in a disparaging way. The suit says the student was interrogated about where she got the complaint form, which Frost had printed out for the student.
The suit attempts to establish that Frost was fired in retaliation for her helping LGBTI kids to speak out about harassment and as such that her termination violates the Fair Employment and Housing Act as well as the state’s Education Code.
The complaint also repeats claims made by the ACLU earlier this year about the censorship of Sultana’s GSA and the alleged hostile attitude LGBTI students at the school faced from some members of the administration.
For its part, the Hesperia district is denying the claims made in the 109 page suit, saying that Frost was lawfully fired:
“While the district may not discuss personnel matters, Ms. Frost’s allegations that the district dismissed her because she ‘blew the whistle’ with the ACLU about students’ equal rights, specifically the rights of our LGBT students, is absolutely false,” Interim Superintendent David McLaughlin is quoted as saying. “The simple matter of fact is that a probationary teacher was legitimately and appropriately dismissed, a fact that will become evident as this matter is litigated, and she is now trying to cloud the matter, and turn it into legal action for personal gain.”
Frost says this has nothing to do with personal gain but everything to do with the hostile environment she says LGBTI students and teachers are being subjected to at Sultana High School:
“I love teaching and working with young people, and it breaks my heart to see some of them facing hostility and rejection just for being who they are,” Julia Frost said. “That’s why I agreed to be a faculty co-sponsor of the GSA. These students need and deserve a supportive, positive role model, just like all students do. I can’t regret having been there for them, and shouldn’t be punished for having done so.”
While we can’t comment on the details of this case at this time, cases like this do spell out why California’s LGBT inclusive FAIR Education Act and the landmark trans rights bill known as AB 1266 are necessary (though obviously not perfect) remedies, because such laws make clear that harassment and infringement of LGBTI rights in schools is not acceptable.
Given that AB 1266 now looks like it might face a ballot repeal effort, it’s also worth noting that a battle to ensure basic fairness and equal treatment for LGBTI students and teachers is still, sadly, ongoing.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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