A teacher who taught in Maryland for years has settled a discrimination lawsuit, claiming she was subjected to “pervasive and severe” verbal and physical assaults because of her transgender identity.
As a teacher in Prince George’s County between 2008 and 2017, Jennifer Eller claimed that teachers, administrators, and parents perpetuated a culture of discrimination and harassment toward transgender people, DCist reports.
The parties reached a settlement between the Prince George’s County School Board and the federal government, under which the board agreed to adopt policies and procedures aimed at protecting transgender people from harassment. The settlement also included monetary compensation.
Lambda Legal, representing Eller, celebrated the settlement in a press release.
“Public schools should be safe havens where we prepare the leaders of tomorrow and where all are welcome regardless of background or identity. No person should have to endure the relentless harassment, threats, and even violence that are outlined in Jennifer Eller’s complaint,” said Lambda Legal counsel Omar Gonzalez-Pagan in the announcement. “Transphobia and harassment have no place in the workplace or our schools. We are gratified that we have been able to vindicate Jennifer Eller’s rights and hopeful that with this settlement, we will be able to prevent having any transgender person at Prince George’s County public schools from ever having to face the reprehensible treatment that Jennifer Eller endured.”
As soon as Eller graduated from college in South Dakota, she began working as a paraprofessional at a local middle school and as a tutor at a Christian adolescent counseling center in Sioux Falls. During her master of fine arts program at Minnesota State University in 2006, Eller discovered a passion for teaching, the press release states. In 2008, she became a teacher at Kenmoor Middle School after receiving her Maryland teaching license. After three years, she informed Kenmoor Middle School’s principal that she was transitioning into living her authentic life. Students verbally abused her for presenting as a woman, and school administrators told her not to wear women’s apparel.
As a result of her traditional feminine clothing, she was verbally and physically harassed, and the staff dismissed a therapist’s note as "garbage," retaliating against her with transphobic slurs and misgendering when she transferred to Friendly High School in 2011. School administrators ignored her reports and did not take action despite all these incidents.
Eller filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 2015. After an exhaustive investigation, the commission concluded in September 2017 that Eller had been subjected to unlawful treatment based on her gender identity and sexual identity in violation of Title VII. The decision acknowledged and confirmed the discrimination.
Lambda Legal says that in retaliation Eller’s advanced placement English class was withdrawn, and she was subjected to a disciplinary hearing without disciplinary action being taken against her.
For Eller, the settlement is the end of a long, drawn-out saga.
“I’m relieved to see this case finally come to a resolution and satisfied to see that our case led to the adoption of these policy changes and training protocols to improve the school environment for everyone, including LGBTQ+ students and teachers,” Eller said. “This settlement vindicates my pleas for help and sensitivity training on LGBTQ+ issues for students and staff. Every student and every teacher should feel safe, welcomed, and respected in a school environment.”
She added, “I am hopeful that with the new policy and training changes adopted by the Board of Education in response to my case, there are now strong measures to prevent and address discrimination or harassment towards transgender staff or students.”