A teacher who said she was fired by the Hesperia (Calif.) Unified School District for supporting LGBT students when they complained over the district’s treatment of a high school’s Gay Straight Alliance club will receive $850,000 in a lawsuit settlement.
The San Bernardino Sun reports that the $850,000 payment is the largest settlement that Los Angeles-based Lambda Legal, which represented the teacher, has ever secured.
Julia Frost, former English teacher and Gay Straight Alliance club co-adviser at Sultana High School in Hesperia, sued under provisions of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Education Code regarding the rights of lesbian, gay and gender non-conforming teachers and students. Frost herself is a lesbian.
“It was important for me to bring this challenge, but I’m also happy it’s settled,” Frost says. “I’m also pleased to know that there are now clear, written policies in place...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.”
In 2012, Frost helped members of Sultana High's Gay Straight Alliance bring in the ACLU of Southern California in response to what she and students saw as a pattern of discrimination against gay students and club members. But shortly before the ACLU weighed in on the situation at Sultana High, Frost was told her contract wouldn’t be renewed for the 2013-14 school year.
Frost sued the district alleging the district’s decision to fire her was retaliation and based on her status as a gay woman.
The teacher started at Sultana in the 2011-12 school year and was asked to be a co-sponsor of the Gay Straight Alliance club. Frost helped students file formal complaints with the district about slurs and other discriminatory behavior by teachers and administrators at the school.
“The amount of the settlement speaks loudly," says Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer. "There were real problems there. Insurers and their districts generally do not settle their cases in this settlement amount unless there is quite powerful story and evidence.”
In a statement, Hesperia Unified still denies Frost’s allegations.
“This case has dragged on for nearly five years, with the district and its (insurance group) incurring significant defense costs,” the unsigned statement reads in part. “While Ms. Frost has not yet produced any compelling evidence to support any of her claims, one can never predict what might happen at trial. … Settlement was simply an appropriate, prudent financial decision in light of the protracted litigation effort by this former employee.”