Monday, October 14, 2019

Teacher sues school after getting fired for using wrong gender pronouns

Fascinating case out of Virginia - from WaPo, A Virginia teacher was fired for refusing to use a trans student’s pronouns. Now, he’s suing his school district - and, props to WaPo for including a copy of the Complaint.

From the story:
Citing his religious beliefs, [the teacher] promised to use only the student’s name and avoid pronouns entirely . . . .  
Then, on Oct. 31, 2018, his second-year French students wore virtual-reality goggles and walked around the classroom. The transgender student seemed about to crash when the teacher told another student to help. “Don’t let her hit the wall,” Vlaming shouted. 
The student withdrew from the class, and the school board fired the teacher. In his Complaint, the teacher describes his views as:
But this case is about far more than pronouns. It is about whether the government may force Mr. Warning to express ideas about human nature, unrelated to the school's curriculum, that he believes are false. If he were to comply with Defendants' demands, he would be forced to communicate that gender identity, rather than biological reality, fundamentally shapes and defines who we truly are as humans, that our sex can change, and that a woman who identifies as a man really is a man. But if he refers to students based on their biological sex (as he has, with reasonable accommodations), he communicates the views he actually believes—that our sex shapes who we are as humans, that this sex is fixed in each person, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of our feelings or desires.
Obviously, teachers have certain rights to speech and religious beliefs. The teacher claims that using only transgender students' proper names was a reasonable accommodation to which he was entitled. Religious accommodations must not, however, impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Here, the school has certain policy interests, such as providing a welcoming and enriching environment for its students. It also may have legal obligations to address and correct a hostile education environment based on a student's gender identity (SCOTUS is wrestling with the scope of gender identity protection under Title VII's employment protections as I type).

The teacher filed his lawsuit in Virginia state court under state law and constitutional claims. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out - but I suspect these issues will spawn more and more litigation over the next few years until we get some clearer lines drawn.

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