California Department of Industrial Relations Vindicates Lesbian Teacher

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School district cannot pull students from classroom because teacher is a lesbian
June 20, 2000

(LOS ANGELES, June 20, 2000) — Another California school district has been ordered to stop transferring students from a gay teacher’s classroom because such action is a form of employment discrimination, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Tuesday.

The California Department of Industrial Relations (CDIR) upheld an earlier administrative ruling against Hemet Unified School District for granting a parent’s request to remove a high school student from a tenth grade English class because the teacher is a lesbian.

The teacher, Alta Kavanaugh, is an award-winning instructor who has taught at the Hemet Unified School District for 18 years.

Lambda Staff Attorney Myron Dean Quon of Lambda’s Los Angeles-based Western Regional Office said, “This important victory for lesbian and gay teachers in the state of California is also a great relief for an exemplary teacher who now can focus on teaching instead of the cloud of discrimination over her classroom.”

This is Lambda’s second successful case preventing school districts from removing students from classes because the teacher is lesbian or gay. Last year, another award-winning teacher, James Merrick, faced the same discrimination at his Bakersfield school; the state labor commissioner ruled in his favor as well.

At West Valley High School, located 45 miles south of Palm Springs, trouble started in October 1998 when a parent demanded her child be removed from Kavanaugh’s class, claiming that Kavanaugh’s mentioning her lesbian partner in class had created a “hostile learning environment.” The parent also said she did not want her daughter taught by “the lesbian teacher.”

The following January, the labor commissioner ordered officials not to remove students from Kavanaugh’s classroom and to delete all adverse records from Kavanaugh’s personnel file; the school district appealed to the CDIR, the state’s highest level of administrative appeal.

Lambda supported Kavanaugh before the Commissioner and the CDIR, explaining that the school’s catering to anti-gay perspectives, completely unrelated to teaching performance, was discriminatory and a violation of state law.

Both rulings cited the California Labor Code that prohibits employment discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. The Commissioner and the CDIR instructed the school district to conduct mandatory training with district administrators concerning the rights of lesbian and gay teachers, and to post a notice of the district’s violation of the law throughout the school and district headquarters.

Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest gay legal organization, headquartered in New York with regional offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago.

(Kavanaugh v. Hemet Unified School District, No. 99-04090)

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Contact: Myron Dean Quon 323-937-2728 ext. 229
Peg Byron 212-809-8585 ext. 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)


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