Lambda Legal has settled a lawsuit filed in Nov. 2013 on behalf of lesbian teacher Julia Frost against the Hesperia Unified School District in San Bernardino County, Lambda announced April 18. Frost alleged that she was fired in retaliation for supporting LGBT students, who claimed discrimination by school administrators.
Frost alleged that, as the faculty adviser to Sultana High School’s Gay Straight Alliance club, she helped GSA members bring in the ACLU of Southern California to look at what they saw as a pattern of discrimination against them by faculty, staff, and school administrators. But before the ACLU weighed in, Frost was told her contract would not be renewed for the 2013-14 school year.
In a November 19, 2013 interview with the San Bernardino Sun, Frost, an English teacher, said she was asked to advise the GSA. “Almost immediately, I was singled out,” she said.
Frost was summoned to meetings with administrators without other GSA advisers. “The only thing I can surmise,” Frost told the Sun, “because it was just me and nobody else, was it was just because of my sexual orientation?”
The ACLU’s intervention ultimately led to changes in the district’s nondiscrimination policy and training procedures in 2015.
“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,” Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer said in a press release.
Frost will receive $850,000, Lambda Legal’s largest employment discrimination settlement.
“It was important for me to bring this challenge, but I’m also happy it’s settled,” Frost said. “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.”
“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 Attorney Dan Stormer, a law partner with Hadsell Stormer Renick LLP and Lambda Legal’s co-counsel.
HUSD “strongly denies” Frost’s allegations of discrimination, harassment and related claims—which they claimed could not be supported by any “compelling evidence,” the district said in an emailed statement to BusinessInsurance.com. However, settling the case was a “prudent financial decision in light of the protracted litigation effort by this former employee” and “one can never predict what might happen at trial,” including “the potential risk of a huge plaintiff’s attorney fee award if the District didn’t win on all counts.”
HUSD also asserted that “the settlement is not an admission of guilt or an acceptance of liability for any alleged wrongdoing by the District.” – Karen Ocamb contributed to this report.