Trans teacher from PG County schools facing discrimination lawsuit
Lawyers representing former transgender English teacher Jennifer Eller in a 2018 discrimination lawsuit against Prince George County Public Schools and the County Board of Education filed a petition in federal court this week last to ask a judge to rule in support of Eller’s two main allegations against school officials.
The motion for partial summary judgment, filed April 28 in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, calls on the court to uphold Eller’s accusations that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile working environment for five years. this included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers and supervisors, and retaliation by administrators.
The motion also asks the court to state that Eller, 39, was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 due to harassment and discriminatory actions based on her sex and gender identity.
Eller’s motion for summary judgment, which calls for a ruling in her favor on the allegations, came a month after lawyers for PG County schools and the school board filed their own motion seeking summary judgment against all allegations from Eller’s trial. If US Judge Charles B. Day rules in favor of the school system’s motion, which court observers don’t believe will happen, it would result in the case being dismissed.
The petition filed by Eller’s lawyers asks the court to rule against the school system’s summary judgment motion.
Court records show that requests from parties opposing the case came after Magistrate Judge Day issued a March 26 directive requiring both parties to attend a May 7 settlement conference in which an effort must be made. done to settle the case before it goes to trial. .
Day’s directive, in the form of a letter to lawyers, called on Eller and his lawyers to submit a “written request” 10 business days before the conference for what a settlement agreement should include. Day’s letter calls on PG school officials and their lawyers to submit a “written offer” to Eller five days before the conference on what a settlement should consist of.
“For years, I have been aggressively sexist, attacked and harassed in hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with DC law the firm Arnold & Porter, represents Eller.
“My calls for help, and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, have been ignored,” Eller said. “The relentless harassment robbed me of the joy of teaching and forced me to quit,” Eller said. “It is time for Prince George County public schools to be held accountable.
Eller accuses in her lawsuit that the harassment and discriminatory actions against her began in 2011 when she switched from male to female during the school year. The lawsuit says school officials initially responded to her harassment complaints by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and resume wearing men’s clothing, which she refused to do.
The lawsuit says she was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced at work.
In addition to naming the PG County Public Schools and the PG County Board of Education as defendants, the lawsuit also names the CEO of the school system Monica Goldson as the defendant.
The lawsuit accuses the school district and its administrators of violating Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and the Prince George County Code of Non-Discrimination.
In its official response to the lawsuit, lawyers for the school system denied Eller’s allegations and claimed that the school system had nondiscrimination policies in place that covered the gender identity and sexual orientation of employees. and students of the school. The school system also says in its response that Eller may not have exhausted the administrative remedies required before filing a complaint and that the lawsuit missed the deadlines for some legal claims.
He also says his legal claims may be disqualified due to his “voluntary resignation from his job,” a claim disputed by Eller’s lawyers who say the resignation was forced by the abuse and harassment Eller faced. at work.
His lawyers also point out that Eller filed a complaint against school officials in 2015 with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which conducted a thorough investigation into Eller’s complaint. Lawyers note that in 2017, the EEOC issued a letter stating that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that Eller had been subjected to illegal treatment because of her sex and gender identity.
“After filing this charge of discrimination, the school administration retaliated against Ms. Eller by withdrawing her advanced placement English course and opening a disciplinary hearing against her which ended in a lack of discipline. », Indicates the legal statement of Lambda.
Officials from the PG County School declined requests from Washington Blade to comment on Eller’s trial, saying it was a policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn, who is gay, is among those expressing concern over the issues raised in Eller’s trial. College Park, home to the University of Maryland, is located in Prince George County.
“It is important for our county and for the whole community, especially for children, that schools are places free from harassment and discrimination,” Wojahn said. “And if what Ms. Eller is saying is true, it shows that the school system has been woefully inadequate.”