California Teacher Settles Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suit with School District
Seven-year dispute proves costly for district that ignored abuse
(LOS ANGELES, Thursday, May 23, 2002) - An award-winning high school teacher, harassed and denied a promotion for being a lesbian, has settled her discrimination case against a Southern California school district, Lambda Legal said Thursday. The lengthy and expensive battle emphasizes the consequences for school districts that fail to take sexual orientation harassment seriously.
The settlement requires the Oceanside Unified School District in San Diego County to pay Dawn Murray over $140,000, and to provide annual sensitivity training to its employees on issues of sexual orientation discrimination.
Murray, a biology teacher hired in 1983, suffered severe harassment that began when co-workers learned she is gay. Although she had won state and national teaching awards, she was denied a promotion. Murray became the target of vicious anti-gay remarks, false rumors, and obscene graffiti that was painted repeatedly outside her classroom. Officials at Oceanside ignored the abuse, and threatened disciplinary action against her when she complained.
“This lawsuit shows other school districts that if they respond to harassment in an inappropriate way, we will stand up, the laws will protect us, and they will be made to stop,” Murray said. “Young people learn from adult behavior, and it was important to wage this fight to show students all people have to be treated fairly.”
Earlier this year, The National Education Association released the Report of the NEA Task Force on Sexual Orientation, which found that discrimination against school employees on the basis of sexual orientation is commonplace. The NEA reported that this discrimination is damaging not only to the affected employees, but to students as well. According to the report, a discriminatory environment may make employees reluctant to intervene on behalf of victimized students, or to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students. In addition, schools that practice employment discrimination send a message to students that it is okay to attack people because of who they are.
“Because the school district failed to take appropriate action in Dawn’s case, the district ended up losing a highly qualified and nationally recognized teacher, and wasting resources that could have been spent on improving education,” said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jon W. Davidson. “This settlement sends an important message to all school officials that everyone loses-and loses big-unless schools take effective steps to remedy sexual orientation discrimination and harassment on campus.”
Lambda Legal successfully handled an earlier appeal in Murray’s case, which in April 2000 reinstated her claims and ruled that California’s laws banning anti-gay job discrimination also prohibit harassment based on sexual orientation. Carlos R. Perez of Reich, Adell, Crost & Cvitan handled the settlement.
Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and people with HIV or AIDS. Headquartered in New York, with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, Lambda Legal will open an office in Dallas later this year.
Contact: Jon Davidson, 323/937-2728 ext. 228
Jennifer Grissom, 212/809-8585 ext. 231