School District Settles with Teacher Fired for Refusing to Use Preferred Pronouns

We need to put this nonsense to rest, stat.

Sacramento Bee (“Teacher refused to use preferred pronouns and was fired, suit says. Now district owes“):

A California school district has settled a lawsuit with a teacher who says she was fired over her religious beliefs after she refused to use students’ preferred pronouns, attorneys say.

The Jurupa Unified School District in Riverside County agreed to pay $360,000 to Jessica Tapia, her attorneys at Advocates for Faith & Freedom said in a May 14 news release.

The settlement closes a federal lawsuit Tapia filed last May that alleged the district’s decision to fire Tapia violated her civil and First Amendment rights, according to the lawsuit.

The alleged violations in part stemmed from her refusal to call students by their preferred pronouns, along with her concern about not revealing students’ gender identities to parents, the lawsuit says.

“Today’s settlement serves as a reminder that religious freedom is protected, no matter your career,” Julianne Fleischer, one of Tapia’s attorneys, said in the release.

While the district approved the settlement Monday, May 13, it “has not admitted any fault or wrongdoing against Ms. Tapia,” Jacqueline Paul, a spokesperson for the district, said in an emailed statement to McClatchy News.

“The decision to settle this case was made in conjunction with the District’s self-insurance authority and in the best interest of the students, such that the District can continue to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to educate and support its student population regardless of their protected class,” Paul said.

Tapia worked at the district since 2014, most recently as a physical education teacher at Jurupa Valley High School, the lawsuit says.

Days before the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the lawsuit says Tapia was put on administrative leave after posts on her personal Instagram account were “brought to the District’s attention.”

“The District claimed … Ms. Tapia’s social media posts were racist, offensive, disrespectful, and mocking towards individuals based upon their sexual orientation,” the lawsuit says.

The district went on to accuse Tapia of “proselytizing during P.E. class,” as well as refusing to call students by their preferred pronouns, the suit says.

In late September 2022, the lawsuit says Tapia received a “Notice of Unprofessional Conduct,” wherein the district listed directives she must follow in order to keep her job. Along with using students’ preferred pronouns, this included allowing students to use the bathroom that matches with their gender identity and not discussing the Bible with her students, according to the lawsuit.

Subsequently, the lawsuit says Tapia took a medical leave of absence through December 2022.

“The Directives caused Ms. Tapia to suffer severe mental and emotional anguish because she was torn between agreeing to conditions that caused her to violate her religious beliefs or losing the job she worked her entire life for,” the lawsuit says.

Tapia responded with a letter in December 2022, citing specific directives she could not follow, as she said they went against her Christian faith, documents show.

Among those Tapia cited was the requirement to refer to students by their preferred pronouns.

“The lies and confusion that children are fed in terms of ‘you aren’t who you were created to be’ is based in evil and I will not take part in that,” Tapia wrote. “I believe that God created male and female.”

While I understand the district’s settling the suit to avoid the offense of fighting it out in court, this is an area of law that should have been settled long ago. While I’m sympathetic to the idea that people have strong views, whether religious or otherwise, on transgender questions, it’s simply absurd that this gives them a right to violate state law or reasonable school policies.

However sincere her beliefs—and she’s entitled to them—she simply can’t be allowed to denigrate children under her care. It’s hard enough to keep kids from bullying outliers; teachers have to be a safe harbor from harrassment.

The only part of the case—judging solely from this report—where I think she may have had some grounds for success was this:

Upon her return in January 2023, the lawsuit says she sent the district another letter, requesting potential accommodations, which included “calling students by the name listed on the school roster” or a transfer to a different school or position within the district where she did not need to interact with students.

The district responded, saying it could not accommodate Tapia’s requests “without violating California and federal law, ‘aimed at protecting students and providing all students, a discrimination and harassment free learning environment,’” and she was later fired, the lawsuit says.

Given that trans and nonbinary kids, especially those who recently announced their status or whose parents are unsupportive, might have “dead” names on the official roster, that approach was obviously unsatisfactory. But given years of employment in the district, she likely had some sort of tenure protection. One would think there would be jobs for which she was suitable that wouldn’t have required interactions with students.

The caveat is that there were allegedly also racist posts on her Instagram. Depending on their nature, that would actually be harder to work around, given the high likelihood that she would have had co-workers or even subordinates of color in any job.

FILED UNDER: Education, Law and the Courts, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. just nutha says:

    Asking to be put in an assignment where she didn’t need to be in contact with students kind of blunts the whole notion of why to go into education in the first place. Then again, I met lots of teachers during my career who seemed to have chosen teaching because they wanted to exert their will over people and children are easier to do that to than adults.

    And a fair number of them have come from evangelical church environs. Why this attitude thrives given that the purported founder of the belief is held to have said “he who would be first in heaven must be the servant of all” has always puzzled me, though.

    5
  2. Franklin says:

    Was this issue ever even mentioned by God? If not, I think we should ask her.

    6
  3. anjin-san says:

    @just nutha:

    I met lots of teachers during my career who seemed to have chosen teaching because they wanted to exert their will over people and children are easier to do that to than adults.

    That sounds like about half of the teachers at the jr. high school I went to.

    1
  4. Assad K says:

    Well, this is how Jordan Peterson first achieved fame, after all.

    3
  5. Beth says:

    @just nutha:

    I met lots of teachers during my career who seemed to have chosen teaching because they wanted to exert their will over people and children are easier to do that to than adults.

    I threw a chair across a class room because one of these teachers. Worked like a charm. Got me out of a special ed nightmare.

    1
  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    My understanding of California employment law is that, when interviewing a prospective candidate, you may ask them the following question:

    Would you be able to call a transgender student by their preferred name, even if that has a different gender than the one assigned at birth?

    And you can disqualify them on the basis of that answer, because you can demonstrate a direct connection between this behavior and job requirements (e.g. children need to feel safe with at least the teacher). You aren’t bringing up religion, and if they do, it doesn’t matter. You have a job requirement.

    HOWEVER, this was a teacher who was hired long before anybody thought to ask this question, which makes the whole thing messy. The district paid her 300K to go away, it looks like. And in my book, that’s money well spent.

    9
  7. Gustopher says:

    Doc Joyner:

    While I’m sympathetic to the idea that people have strong views, whether religious or otherwise, on transgender questions, it’s simply absurd that this gives them a right to violate state law or reasonable school policies.

    However sincere her beliefs—and she’s entitled to them—she simply can’t be allowed to denigrate children under her care. It’s hard enough to keep kids from bullying outliers; teachers have to be a safe harbor from harrassment.

    I’m curious as to how you would balance these two very different paragraphs in a state like Florida, where state law and school district policies would mandate denigrating and bullying children under her care.

    ——

    I also really have trouble understanding why people get so insistent about misgendering trans and nonbinary people and calling them their dead name. It just seems like a lot of effort to go through to be an asshole.

    I don’t go by my legal name, but everyone goes along with it because I look like what they assume a Gus would look like — it matches my assumed gender*, and it’s a dog name that should go for someone with no main-character energy, like me.

    I’m disappointed that the district paid this hateful woman anything. I half-expect that the decision was made by their insurance company, or other bean counters, but I would worry that they’ve just created a precedent for a quick way to get $360k on your way out the door.

    *: how would they know my real gender? I mean, even I just assume I’m a man, but maybe I’m just lazy and am content with the easiest option. Do most people have a conscious sense of their gender being right? Or do they only notice when it is wrong?

    2
  8. Beth says:

    @Gustopher:

    Do most people have a conscious sense of their gender being right?

    My overly snotty answer is Cis people don’t. How many men that get hair transplants or use rogaine realize that’s [overly loud gong] GENDER AFFIRMING CARE! Women who get breast reductions, enlargements, or reconstructions [gong time] GENDER AFFIRMING CARE!

    Or do they only notice when it is wrong?

    I never realized just how much of my brain was dedicated to performing the wrong gender. Once I fixed everything, I don’t really think about it any more. I get to just exist. The downside is now I can actually tell how bad my depression and ADHD are. whoops.

    2
  9. Kazzy says:

    I have worked in a variety of schools, most of which addressed teachers on a first name basis but one of which insisted on using Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss and the last name. I much preferred the former but at the one school was told it was important and necessary we do the latter so the kids learned to show respect. So…. I was Mr. Last Name. Now, my last name is very hard to pronounce if you try to read it. It’s not hard to pronounce if you hear it and repeat it. My 4-year-olds generally did a good job of hearing and repeating it. They tried their best and that was enough for me (even though I would have preferred they call me by my first name).

    But the adults? They routinely pronounced it wrong. For years.

    But, hey, it’s important to show respect, right? I guess “Taking the time to learn how to pronounce the name you insist the person use against their preference” isn’t part of being respectful. Go figure.

    Just so long as kids are properly serving their teachers…

    4
  10. wr says:

    @Jay L Gischer: “The district paid her 300K to go away, it looks like. And in my book, that’s money well spent.”

    A barrel of tar and a sack of feathers would have been a lot cheaper. And far more satisfying.

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  11. Slugger says:

    @Franklin: Hebrew and other Semitic languages gender words much more than English does. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and even verbs are gendered. One of the nice things about English is that you can use a noun without worrying about whether it is a der, die, das word. God, of course, speaks a Semitic language.

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  12. gVOR10 says:

    @Gustopher:

    It just seems like a lot of effort to go through to be an asshole.

    That seems a good short definition of conservative v liberal. A version of philosopher Judith Shklar‘s definition of liberals as people for whom ‘cruelty is the worst thing we do’.

    4
  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    On the one hand, screw this woman, the most generous characterization would be that she was unprofessional. OTOH, I wish more kids would read the Bible.* It made me an atheist. I don’t think the old fairy tales sell to kids today. I think they just sound ridiculous.

    *It has some good bits, too, but it’s no Iliad. Very uneven characterization and full of obvious nonsense about people living to be 900, or shoving all of animal life on a boat. They never even fully describe the superpowers. Badly needed an editor. You could easily cut 80% and lose nothing of value.

    ETA: Oh my god, I just realized that could be a bestseller: Bible: Just The Good Bits. One gospel, you reduce redundancies, you can decide how to resolve discrepancies, and it’s in the public domain, so it’s not like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are going to sue.

    2
  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    OK, some people have beaten me to the abridged bible, though I’d abridge it harder. But in a shortened form the characterization problem would be more obvious. The only thru-line character is a murderous psychopath, not likable or relatable. I’d redo it with god as the obvious villain. Then I think a YA science-fiction light story, with God the Father as President Snow. Oh and a hot Jesus, obviously. Maybe a bisexual romantic triangle with our plucky heroine, Hot Jesus and Mary Magdalene? I’m just spitballing, here.

    ETA: The Bible is IP in the public domain. Huge audience pre-awareness (which is when you’re aware of something before you’re aware of it.) It wants to be time travel, which is a bitch, but that’s the only way to insert your Zelig-like strong female character.

    Wait: Dr. Who at the crucifixion.

    2
  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    So does this work both ways? Can I just decide to give one of my coworkers a new name and gender and get away with it on the basis it’s part of my religion?

    4
  16. just nutha says:

    @anjin-san: Only half? You must have gone to a pretty decent school.

  17. just nutha says:

    @Beth: Good on ya!

  18. just nutha says:

    Comment removed for redundancy.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: This is my favorite shortened Bible. Really gets to the point.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17689005-god-is-disappointed-in-you

    ——
    Doctor Who at the crucifixion, but Jesus is the Doctor. It explains the whole resurrection bit, and fits with 12’s “am I a good man” theme. (Or maybe Jesus is the Master, causing thousands of years of strife for funsies)

    (I remain disappointed in the “Doctor Who meets Rosa Parks” episode, where the Space Racist villain tells the bus driver to take the day off, and the episode weirdly revolves around getting the bus driver back on the job. It’s not like the Doctor didn’t bring a spare bus driver along as one of her companions)

  20. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Let me recommend a book.

    This could be characterized as “The Gospels: Just the Good Bits”

  21. Paul L. says:

    Bake the [Dildo] Cake Bigot.

  22. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Well, I certainly hope that she also refused to allow any of her students to wear corrective lenses, hearing aids, or orthdontia during her P/E class. After all, it is very very very very very important that she stay consistent in applying her belief that “(t)he lies and confusion that children are fed in terms of ‘you aren’t who you were created to be’ is based in evil.”

    1
  23. DrDaveT says:

    And now we know why atheist Democrats are more likely than Christian Republicans to affirm Jesus’ Golden Rule as an important moral code. When it’s all about being shitty to Those People, the Golden Rule really cramps your style.

    6
  24. Ol' Nat says:

    I’m not sure where in the Bible it tells us to use dead names rather than chosen names, or do be cruel to kids, or any of this. Religious beliefs my ass.

    1
  25. Jax says:

    I knew it would attract the slug. Goodnight, everybody else.

    2
  26. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.: Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout, Willis?

  27. DeD says:

    @Gustopher:

    Jax will expound later. If he doesn’t, I’m gonna be all over it.

  28. Jay says:

    But given years of employment in the district, she likely had some sort of tenure protection. One would think there would be jobs for which she was suitable that wouldn’t have required interactions with students.

    Tenure does not protect you from being fired for not actually doing your job. Yes, there may have been positions that exist where she doesn’t have to deal with students. But if that isn’t the job she was hired to do or given tenure for the district isn’t required to put her in that job, tenure or no.

    1
  29. TheRyGuy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’d say I’m surprised to see such a smart guy with such an adolescent view of the Bible, but you also completely swallowed the Russia Collusion conspiracy theory. So I guess you’re not as smart as I thought.

    And as noted wierdo Rod Dreher put it, “If you don’t like the Christian Right, you’re going to REALLY not like the post-Christian Right.”

    On the subject of mandated speech, it’s going to be really funny reading this place when President Trump and the GOP Congress pass a law requiring teachers to begin each day by leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance. Or maybe it will just be a loyalty oath to Trump himself. The lesson that if those in power can force you to do “A,” they can also force you to do “Not A” just needs to keep being relearned over and over and over.

    1
  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @TheRyGuy:
    The Bible is taken literally only by morons. Slightly smarter people understand it as a set of stories meant to teach moral truths, inspired by God. Really smart people understand that it’s a hodgepodge of stories that amount to nothing more than fairy tales, with some mangled history thrown in. There is a negative correlation between faith and IQ. See, smart people don’t believe in things for which no evidence exists. I don’t believe in God for the same reason I don’t believe in Leprechauns.

    As for the notion that the Bible is inspired by an omniscient being, I can only say that if that’s the case, then omniscience does not equal writing talent or skill.

    1
  31. Matt Bernius says:

    @TheRyGuy:

    On the subject of mandated speech, it’s going to be really funny reading this place when President Trump and the GOP Congress pass a law requiring teachers to begin each day by leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance

    Fantasizing about Republicans passing laws that are unconstitutional on their face to own the libs is a weird flex.

    But it definitely explains why the current Republican led House has one of the worst legislative records in all of our history. But whatever takes your mind off the fact that Mike Johnson is still Speaker despite all of his failures (at least in the eyes of the MAGA caucus).

  32. just nutha says:

    @Matt Bernius: As a teacher, I led students in the Pledge of Allegiance every day after I returned from Korea. RyGuy has his head up his bazoo (he must be really flexible), but not under the conditions you’re imagining.

  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @just nutha:
    I’d be happy with the pledge if, for a start, we could substitute ‘constitution’ for ‘flag.’ The United States is its constitution, it is not its flag.

    I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    1
  34. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’d be happy with the pledge if, for a start, we could substitute ‘constitution’ for ‘flag.’ The United States is its constitution, it is not its flag.

    Hear, hear.

    In my little town, I grew up believing
    God keeps his eye on us all.
    And he used to lean upon me
    As I pledged allegiance to the wall…

    — Paul Simon, genius songwriter

    1
  35. Matt Bernius says:

    @just nutha:
    Public* school teachers and school systems can opt to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. However, the Supreme Court has also repeatedly ruled that students cannot be compelled to participate–especially if they object on religious grounds. For more on that see: https://www.thefire.org/news/no-you-cant-be-forced-say-pledge-allegiance

    Passing a law that requires all schools to recite the law daily would be unconstitutional on both those grounds (unless it allowed for students to opt out). It also would most likely be unconstitutional because it’s superseding state and local level control of schools. At best, like the No Child Left Behind Act, they can tie it to receiving Federal Funding. And in that case the act also allows States to get waivers not to participate.

    * – Private school students don’t have such protections.

  36. Chip Daniels says:

    @TheRyGuy:

    The lesson that if those in power can force you to do “A,” they can also force you to do “Not A”

    Conservatives always think this is a clever riposte.

    What is unintentionally illuminating is what their versions of “Not A” always are.

    Liberal versions of A are things like treating other people as they wish to be treated, addressing them as they wish to be addressed.

    Conservative versions of A are treating other people in ways they themselves would never tolerate if done to them and in fact ways that liberals would never think of to do.

    2
  37. just nutha says:

    @Matt Bernius: People who believe that congresses and legislatures passing laws control people’s actual behavior are a special class. All I said was that I led the ritual. Students participated depending on their volition, just as has always been the case since Congress added “under God” to show them commies and JWs “who runs this country” back before I even started kindergarten.