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California Supreme Court lets harassed lesbian teacher have her day in court
August 10, 2000

(LOS ANGELES, August 10, 2000) — An award-winning high school teacher, harassed and denied a promotion for being a lesbian, can sue her Southern California school district for anti-gay job discrimination, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday, after the California Supreme Court refused to step in to bar the case.

The California Supreme Court unanimously rejected the school district’s attempt to have the case dismissed, said Lambda, which represents teacher Dawn Murray.

“With this ruling, the California Supreme Court has taught schools and other employers that they cannot allow anti-gay harassment on the job,” said Lambda Staff Attorney Myron Dean Quon.

Murray, a biology teacher hired in 1983, charges that officials at Oceanside Unified School District in San Diego County ignored severe harassment against her that began in 1993, when co-workers learned she is gay. Although she had won state and national teaching awards, she was denied a promotion and became the target of vicious anti-gay remarks and false rumors, and obscene graffiti was painted repeatedly outside her classroom between 1994 and 1996. But, officials threatened disciplinary action when she complained about the harassment.

Murray’s teaching honors include a prestigious Princeton University fellowship for teaching biotechnology and an award from the National Association of Biology Teachers as an Outstanding Biology Teacher of the Year.

The state supreme court on Wednesday let stand a unanimous opinion issued April 19 by a three-judge appellate panel, firmly rebuking a trial court that dismissed Murray’s complaint, originally filed in 1996. The panel agreed with Lambda that the state prohibition on anti-gay job discrimination also prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation.

“This has been a devastating ordeal, and I am so relieved that I now can have my day in court,” said Murray. She added, “I am so glad that, with Lambda, I stood up to this discrimination, for the sake of my students as well as teachers like myself. Unlike what the school district’s example taught, students now know that they can’t harass a person off the playground, or out of the classroom, or when they grow up, out of a job.”

Tom Homann Law Association, San Diego’s lesbian and gay bar association, San Francisco’s Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom filed amicus briefs on behalf of Murray. Lambda Cooperating Attorney Paula Brantner of the National Employment Lawyers Association in San Francisco assisted in drafting Murray’s brief.

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

(Murray v. Oceanside Unified School District, No. D031662)

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


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