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Hesperia teacher says she was targeted for encouraging LGBT pride

A teacher has just filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino County Superior Court claiming not only discrimination based on her sexual orientation but also retaliation for encouraging LGBT and gender-non-conforming students to speak up against what she says was a hostile environment at Sultana High School in the Hesperia Unified School District. The woman, a lesbian, taught at the high school for two years and was the faculty sponsor of its Gay-Straight Alliance. Despite receiving positive job reviews, however, she was subjected to biased criticism by administrators and fired.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including retaliatory termination -- which includes refusal to renew annual contracts.

The teacher is being represented by Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest nonprofit LGBT legal advocacy organization. According to a Lambda Legal spokesperson, she was a “beloved teacher” who helped LGBT and gender-non-conforming kids learn to deal with an atmosphere often openly hostile to them in violation of their civil rights. She encouraged Gay-Straight Alliance members to speak up -- and taught them how to file formal complaints -- when they experienced illegal harassment or discrimination.

In response, her lawyers claim, school administrators singled her out for criticism, often challenging her on actions that were identical to actions of heterosexual faculty members. Ultimately, the school refused without cause to renew her contract, she says.

Officials from the school district, while claiming they could not discuss personnel matters, called her complaint “absolutely false.” The superintendant asserted to the LA Times that had been legitimately released from her contract during her probationary period and went on to accuse her of “trying to cloud the matter and turn it into legal action for personal gain.”

A senior attorney from Lambda Legal said in a statement that school officials forced the teacher out for "being a kind and conscientious teacher and for creating a safe space for vulnerable students. In other words, she was punished for doing her job."

Reasonable people may disagree on LGBT activities, but they cannot take those disagreements out on vulnerable teens. All kids have a right to be safe from intolerance and harassment at school and, under California law, so do teachers. If decency in a diverse society and the workplace is ever to be achieved, the last thing we can afford is illegal harassment and retaliation in schools.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Hesperia teacher says she was fired for being a lesbian, files suit," Rick Rojas, Nov. 19, 2013

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