A former California English teacher is suing the Hesperia Unified School District for discrimination. Julia Frost worked for the school district from 2011 to 2013 as a probationary teacher. After her contract was not renewed, Frost filed her lawsuit believing she was harassed, had to work in a hostile work environment and was terminated all because she is a lesbian.
According to the Seattle PI article, Frost claims that the school investigated her for “teaching homosexuality,” singled her out for unspecified harassment because of her sexual orientation, her support of gay students at her school, and her co-sponsoring of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). The school’s harassment created a hostile environment for her and gay students at the school. Furthermore, Frost received excellent performance reviews, yet her contract was not renewed. Frost believes the timing of her dismissal was related to her helping a student file a complaint against another teacher for a derogatory gay comment. The school district claims the dismissal was legitimate, Without additional information it is unclear whether the school district has sufficient evidence to prove a legitimate dismissal or if Frost has enough specific information to prove a pattern of harassment, hostile work environment and/or discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Washington State law, like California law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination is prohibited in hiring, firing, promotions, pay, and any other aspect of the employment process. Harassment and hostile work environments are not addressed in the state’s non-discrimination law partly because harassment is already prohibited as a criminal offense. Although not all harassment reaches a criminal level, non-criminal harassment in the work place can create a strong case for discrimination which is illegal. For instance, harassment like derogatory comments and targeting or singling out individuals for excessive or unwarranted investigations or negative treatment are not criminal actions, however they are likely to seen as harassment in the workplace and likely to lead to a hostile environment if not resolved.
Court Remedies For Unlawful Discrimination
If Ms. Frost has sufficient evidence to prove that she was harassed and discriminated against based solely or primarily on her sexual orientation then there are a few remedies that she could receive. One remedy that works well for some wrongful terminations is reinstatement; however given the alleged hostile work environment this option may not be appealing unless the school makes some changes. Other options are back pay, damages like for her pain and suffering from the unlawful termination, and the school or the school district could be fined additional money for not stopping the pattern of harassment and discrimination. Additionally, the school or the school district could be ordered, or could agree to, creating new measures to prevent similar behavior in the future, which does not help Ms. Frost, but is good for those who come next.
Hostile work environments, harassment and sexual orientation discrimination can be stressful and illegal, contacting an HKM employment attorney can help.