Lambda Legal Files Sexual Orientation Discrimination Charge Against Bremen Community High School District on Behalf of Superintendent
(Chicago, December 13, 2006) — Today, Lambda Legal filed a complaint with the Cook County Human Rights Commission charging the Bremen Community High School District No. 228, Bremen Community Board of Education, and Bremen School Board president, Evelyn Gleason, with sexual orientation discrimination.
“Ms. Gleason and other members of the school board tried to keep Rich Mitchell from being hired because he is gay, and when they failed to do that, they stopped him from doing his job — all at the expense of the students of Bremen,” said James P. Madigan, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office. “When Ms. Gleason tried to terminate Dr. Mitchell’s employment, she responded to a parent who questioned her 'Did you know he’s gay?’”
In 2004, Dr. Richard Mitchell interviewed for the position of superintendent of the Bremen Community High School District #228 with members of the School Board. Following his interview, then Board member Evelyn Gleason encouraged other members of the Board not to hire him because he is gay. The Board chose to hire Mitchell through the end of the 2007 school year, and following an assessment of his work in 2005 the school board extended his contract through June 2009. Gleason and another board member sought to invalidate Mitchell’s contract without informing the Board on the theory that the meeting in which the contract was approved violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act, but were rejected by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Cook County State’s Attorney. Shortly thereafter, Gleason became president of the Board and fired the Board’s counsel, hiring the law firm where her son works. The new lawyer to the Board promptly circulated a memo asserting that Mitchell’s extended contract was invalid. When confronted by a parent wishing to understand why Mitchell’s contract was being contested, Gleason responded by saying, “Did you know that he’s gay?”
Lambda Legal’s complaint charges that the actions taken against Dr. Mitchell are illegal under the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance, which protects employees from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity and also from being retaliated against for exercising their rights under the Ordinance.
Mitchell worked to implement various programs to improve the district but the Board repeatedly stifled his efforts. After hindering Mitchell’s ability to make changes to the district he was hired to administer and improve, the Board employed a “remediation plan,” giving Mitchell 60 days to attempt to overhaul the district while the Board continued to deny requests that would have allowed him to do so. Lambda Legal alleges that the remediation plan was pretext for the Board’s anti-gay discrimination against Mitchell. Mitchell was suspended without pay and later fired without the opportunity to complete the remediation period.
For more information on workplace discrimination and Lambda Legal’s “Blow the Whistle on Workplace Discrimination” campaign, please visit www.lambdalegal.org/btw.
The Matter is Mitchell v. Bremen Community School District No. 228 and Gleason et al.
James P. Madigan, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office in Chicago is representing Dr. Mitchell in this matter.
Jackie Yodashkin 212-809-8585 ext.229
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.