Lambda Legal Files Discrimination Lawsuit Against Hesperia USD on Behalf of Lesbian Teacher
(Hesperia, CA, November 19, 2013) – Lambda Legal today filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court claiming the Hesperia Unified School District and administrators at Sultana High School violated California law by not renewing the contract of an openly lesbian teacher in retaliation for supporting lesbian, gay, and gender-nonconforming students’ attempts to speak out about the harassment and discrimination directed at them.
“From day one, Julia Frost was subjected to harassment by administrators and other faculty because of her sexual orientation,” said Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Director, Law and Policy Project. “But Julia kept focused on her role as a teacher. When she was asked to co-sponsor the Gay/Straight Alliance student club at Sultana, she stepped up. And when she saw the criticism and open hostility directed at gay, lesbian and gender non-confirming students in the hallways and classrooms, she helped them understand how to make formal complaints. Sultana High officials pushed Julia Frost 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.”
“Throughout her two years at Sultana High, Julia was repeatedly singled out by the principal and other top administrators, even though the actions they questioned were identical to the actions of heterosexual teachers,” said Bert Voorhees of Traber & Voorhees, Lambda Legal’s co-counsel in the lawsuit. “And yet, notwithstanding the hostile work environment these officials created, Julia was a beloved teacher who received 5 very positive performance reviews before the ACLU publicly criticized Sultana’s treatment of lesbian, gay and gender-nonconforming students.”
In the complaint filed today in the San Bernardino County Superior Court, Lambda Legal and Traber & Voorhees present nine legal claims under California law based on the harassment of and discrimination against lesbian, gay, and gender-nonconforming individuals. The claims address the discriminatory ending of her employment and unlawful retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Education Code for protecting lesbian, gay, and gender-nonconforming students and advising them how to exercise their free speech rights. The complaint documents many instances of discrimination and harassment, of school administrators’ failing to investigate complaints, and of those same administrators repeatedly blocking the efforts of the Sultana GSA student club to publicize and hold activities.
Sultana High School’s hostile environment for lesbian, gay, and gender-nonconforming students came to light this past March, when the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to Hesperia USD on behalf of the Sultana GSA club describing pervasive discrimination and harassment. While denying such an environment existed, in August Hesperia USD agreed to implement an array of policy changes, including awareness training for faculty and staff.
“I love teaching and working with young people, and it breaks my heart to see some of them facing hostility and rejection just for being who they are,” Julia Frost said. “That’s why I agreed to be a faculty co-sponsor of the GSA. These students need and deserve a supportive, positive role model, just like all students do. I can’t regret having been there for them, and shouldn’t be punished for having done so.”
Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Director, Law and Policy Project, and Bert Voorhees and Rebecca Peterson-Fisher, of Traber & Voorhees, are representing Julia Frost. The case is Frost v. Hesperia Unified School District.