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Lambda Legal and Arnold & Porter Urge Court to Rule in Favor of Transgender Teacher Who Endured Years of Harassment and Discrimination

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“Transphobia and harassment have no place in the workplace or in our schools.”
April 28, 2021

Today, Lambda Legal and Arnold & Porter requested the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to rule on a lawsuit filed against the Prince George’s County Public Schools and its Board of Education on behalf of Jennifer Eller, a public school English teacher who endured years of abuse, harassment and retaliation because she is transgender.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” plaintiff Jennifer Eller said. “My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored. The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign. It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

Lambda Legal and Arnold & Porter attorneys filed a motion for summary judgment today in the lawsuit Eller v. Prince George's County Public Schools, which was filed in 2018.

“Public schools should be safe havens where we prepare the leaders of tomorrow and where all are welcome regardless of background or identity. Yet, as Jennifer Eller’s case demonstrates, Prince George’s County public schools have been anything but safe for transgender students and teachers alike. No person should have to endure the relentless harassment, threats, and even violence that Jennifer Eller experienced,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal. “Transphobia and harassment have no place in the workplace or in our schools.”

“The facts of this case demonstrate how the school administrators’ miserably failed to act, address and prevent the years of abuse Jennifer Eller endured because she is transgender,” said Elliott Mogul, senior associate at the law firm of Arnold & Porter. “We feel confident the case is strong enough for the court to see these years of abuse as they were, blatant discrimination, and that judgment in favor of Ms. Eller is warranted at this stage.”

The brief argues that the record shows such a clear pattern of discrimination and harassment that summary judgment is warranted on Ms. Eller’s hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims. The brief also opposes the defendants’ request for a ruling in their favor on Ms. Eller’s other claims, including those based on the retaliation she endured.

The lawsuit argues that the school district and its administrators violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and the Prince George’s County Code.

Background

After graduating from college in South Dakota, Ms. Eller worked as a paraprofessional at a Sioux Falls middle school and as a tutor at a Christian adolescent counseling center. In 2006, while working on her Masters of Fine Arts at Minnesota State University, Ms. Eller discovered her passion for teaching children and instilling in them a love for literature. She applied for her teaching certification in Maryland and, in 2008, Ms. Eller started working as an English teacher at Kenmoor Middle School. Three years later, in March, 2011, she informed the principal at Kenmoor Middle School that she would be transitioning to live authentically as the woman she is. When she began to present as a woman, she was subjected to verbal abuse from students and was instructed by school administrators to stop wearing skirts or dresses.

Ms. Eller transferred to Friendly High School in 2011, but the abuse only escalated. She was the target of rampant verbal and physical harassment for wearing traditionally-feminine attire and staff demanded that she present as “male,” dismissing a therapist’s note as “garbage”. Students would shout transphobic slurs at her and she was repeatedly misgendered and threatened. She reported all these incidents to school administrators, who took little to no action and ignored her.

Finally, in June 2015, Ms. Eller filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After an extensive and thorough investigation, in September 2017, the EEOC issued a letter finding that there was reasonable cause to believe that Ms. Eller had been subject to unlawful treatment based on her sex and gender identity in violation of Title VII, in effect recognizing and confirming this discriminatory treatment on the part of students, parents, staff, and administration. After she filed this discrimination charge, the school administration retaliated against Ms. Eller by taking away her advanced placement English class and opening a disciplinary hearing against her that ended in no discipline.

Attorneys working on the case are Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Staff Attorney Carl S. Charles from Lambda Legal, and partners Paul E. Pompeo, Douglas F. Curtis, and Lori B. Leskin;, Senior Counsel, Justice (ret.) Rosalyn Richter;, Senior Associates Elliott C. Mogul,  and Thomas McSorley; and Associates, Lucas Barrett, Rebecca Neubauer, and Andrew Hannemann from Arnold & Porter.

Read about that case here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/eller-v-prince-georges-county-public-schools

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Contact Info

Samy Nemir, (312) 545-8140, snemir@lambdalegal.org

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