Cook County Human Rights Commission Finds "Substantial Evidence" of Discrimination In Firing of Gay Former School Superintendent Represented by Lambda Legal

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"The findings clearly illustrate that school boards can't be in the business of firing teachers or administrators because they are gay."
July 27, 2010

(Chicago, July 27, 2010) - Last week, the Cook County Human Rights Commission found "substantial evidence" of sexual orientation discrimination after Lambda Legal filed a complaint against the Bremen Community High School District No. 228 and School Board President Evelyn Gleason on behalf of former school district superintendent Dr. Richard Mitchell.

"The findings clearly illustrate that school boards can't be in the business of firing teachers or administrators because they are gay," said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office. "After years of investigation, this case can finally proceed to a full hearing."

The Commission found evidence that Mitchell was discriminated against based on sexual orientation during his employment and that the school district improperly fired him when he asserted his rights under the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance.

Background

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. As noted in the Commission report, during the interview process, School Board member Evelyn Gleason asked two other School Board members if they were aware that Dr. Mitchell was gay. The School Board members inferred that Ms. Gleason was opposed to hiring Dr. Mitchell because of his sexual orientation. The Board chose to hire Mitchell through the end of the 2007 school year. In his complaint, Dr. Mitchell alleges that, soon after he was hired, Gleason and another board member sought to invalidate Mitchell's contract without informing the rest of the Board, but their attempts were rejected by the Illinois State Board of Education.

In early 2005, the School Board extended Dr. Mitchell's contract through June 2009. Shortly thereafter, Gleason became president of the Board and replaced the School District's legal counsel with the law firm where her son works. The new lawyer promptly circulated a memo to the Board 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?"

Mitchell's complaint alleges that he worked to implement various programs to improve the district but the now hostile Board repeatedly stifled his efforts and eventually 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. When Dr. Mitchell asserted that the remediation plan was pretext for the Board's anti-gay discrimination against Mitchell, the Board suspended Mitchell without pay and later fired him without the opportunity to complete the remediation period.

Lambda Legal's complaint charged 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. After years of investigation, the Commission issued an order finding substantial evidence that the school district violated the Human Rights Ordinance when they discriminated against Dr. Mitchell. Now, the case will proceed to a full hearing.

The case is Mitchell v. Bremen Community High School District No. 228 and Gleason et al.

Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago is handling the case.

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Contact Info

Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; jadams@lambdalegal.org

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.

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