A Southern California high school teacher contends that the reason her school district did not renew her contract is that she helped lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students take action against administrators and teachers whom they felt discriminated against them. The school board tells a different story. It looks like the two sides will be fighting it out in court.
The English teacher, who worked at Sultana High School in Hesperia, is claiming that the decision by the Hesperia Unified School District to end her employment is based on discrimination and is also retaliation because the openly gay teacher, who was an adviser to the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, helped students file complaints against her fellow staff members.
The students’ complaints got the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California this past March, and ultimately resulted in policy and employee training changes by the district. However, the teacher was notified that she would not be returning the following year.
According to the plaintiff’s 109-page suit, her performance in her two years at the school had been excellent. The suit contends that she had received only glowing performance reviews up until the ACLU reprimanded the district for its treatment of LGBT students. That’s when she says the harassment, negative feedback and retaliation began. She says she was admonished for “teaching homosexuality” and “gay things.”
The school district sees it differently. According to an HUSD official, the teacher was terminated for legitimate reasons that will come out as the case moves forward. The district also points out that she was still in her probationary period. As a non-tenured employee in California, the teacher could be fired without cause. However, firing someone for her sexual orientation is not legal in the state. HUSD claims that neither her sexuality nor her assistance of gay students had anything to do with its actions.
California employment is considered to be “at will,” which means that either the employer or employee can end it any time and for just about any reason. However, at-will employment does not allow an employer to dismiss an employee due to discrimination or retaliation. Anyone who believes that they lost their job for illegal reasons can and should seek legal recourse.
San Bernardino Sun, “District denies retaliation against teacher who helped LGBT students” Beau Yarbrough, Nov. 19, 2013