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CT federal court: jury could reasonably find that school district discriminated against teacher because of her sexual orientation

Earlier this month a federal court in Connecticut determined that a jury could reasonably find that the Hartford School District unlawfully discriminated against a teacher because of her sexual orientation. The teacher (who is the plaintiff in the lawsuit) and her female spouse both worked for the same school. After the principal and an assistant principal learned that the plaintiff and her spouse were in a same-sex relationship, they allegedly engaged in a campaign of harassment against the plaintiff.

Plaintiff alleged, among other acts of harassment, that she was treated with hostility at meetings; she was assigned more than her fair share of children with behavioral problems; she received discipline for trumped up charges; she was berated for reporting that a student had physically assaulted her; she was denied transfers; and when she experienced a medical emergency at work, no one contacted her spouse to inform her. She eventually quit due to medical concerns related to the stress at work.

None of this harassment seems to have been directly linked to the plaintiff’s sexual orientation. For instance, there was no evidence that the principal used homophobic slurs or commented on plaintiff’s sexual orientation. However, the court determined that a jury could find that the harassment was linked to plaintiff’s sexual orientation because of evidence that the same principal treated other gay employees with hostility. Furthermore, the principal and assistant principal claimed that they did not know plaintiff’s sexual orientation and those claims lacked credibility because it was common knowledge in the school that plaintiff and her spouse were a couple. Thus, a jury could infer that the principal and assistant principal lied about not knowing plaintiff’s sexual orientation to cover up their discriminatory bias against plaintiff.

The court’s decision was also noteworthy because it determined that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination. In so ruling, the court joined other courts in adopting the EEOC’s position that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.