A California school district has reached a settlement agreement with a former teacher who sued for discrimination, alleging she was fired because she was a lesbian and because of her outspoken support for her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club.
Julia Frost, a former English teacher at Sultana High School, in the Hesperia Unified School District, claims she was retaliated against after she helped members of the Gay-Straight Alliance club bring in the ACLU of Southern California to address a pattern of anti-LGBTQ discrimination by teachers and administrators during the fall of 2012.
The club members believed they were discriminated against when their club was removed from the student handbook, their fliers for meetings were censored, and their requests to hold certain events were denied. In March 2013, the ACLU sought to remedy the situation and get the school to agree to treat the Gay-Straight Alliance club the same as other student organizations.
But just shortly after the ACLU intervened, Frost was informed that her contract wouldn’t be renewed for the 2013-2014 school year.
In November 2013, Frost enlisted the help of Lambda Legal and sued the district in San Bernardino Superior Court, alleging 10 separate claims of harassment and discrimination.
Her lawyers argued that the district’s actions violated California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Education Code, which prohibit various forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Although Hesperia Unified School District denied that there was a climate of hostility toward LGBTQ students at Sultana High in response to Frost’s lawsuit, the ACLU and the district had previously agreed just months earlier, in August 2013, to change the district’s policy and training procedures related to LGBTQ inclusion. Those policy revisions were eventually implemented in 2015.
The court battle over Frost’s lawsuit raged on for nearly five-and-a-half years, with Hesperia Unified School District eventually agreeing to settle.
Under the terms of the settlement, the district has agreed to pay Frost $850,000 — the largest employment discrimination settlement that Lambda Legal has secured to date.
The district also agreed to abide by its revised policies, which require regular nondiscrimination training for employees, clarify the district’s procedures for filing a complaint of discrimination, and take other steps to ensure LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming staff and students are not targeted because of their identities.
Frost’s lawyers celebrated Hesperia’s decision to settle the lawsuit.
“Since filing this lawsuit more than five years ago, Julia has stood strong, knowing that she was penalized simply for being herself and doing her job,” Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
“Julia is delighted to be able to put this painful experience behind her and hopes this resolution further improves conditions for teachers and students in Hesperia,” added Pizer. “In keeping with California’s national-best nondiscrimination laws, pedagogy, not prejudice should be the lesson in our schools.”
“This lawsuit forced Hesperia to establish desperately needed policies protecting the rights of LGBT students and teachers. It also compensates her for the harm HUSD caused to her career,” said Dan Stormer, a partner with Hadsell Stormer Renick LLP, which represented Frost as co-counsel with Lambda Legal. “I applaud Ms. Frost’s courage in standing up for LGBT teachers and students, and insisting that our schools must be welcoming for LGBT people.”
“It was important for me to bring this challenge, but I’m also happy it’s settled,” Frost said in a statement. “I’m also pleased to know that there are now clear, written policies in place at HUSD that hopefully will not allow what happened to me to happen to anyone else who, like me, was doing their job and looking after the interests of students.”