FORT WORTH – In a preliminary victory for a lesbian former professor, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied a motion Monday by Tarrant County College administrators to dismiss her lawsuit alleging she was prevented from interviewing for a permanent teaching position based on her sexual orientation.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed a complaint in September 2011 stating she was unable to interview for a permanent position in the English department after her yearlong temporary position had expired.
The co-defendants, English Department Chair Eric Devlin and Dean of Humanities Antonia Howell, sought qualified immunity, which guards state officials from liability unless there is an established law. However, discrimination by public employees based on sexual orientation violates the U.S. Constitution, said Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal who is presenting Gill.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has said that that’s not a valid basis for discriminating,” Upton said. “What we wanted to show is that it is clearly established that you don’t get to judge someone’s job performance based on sexual orientation. … (The court) ruled that it was clearly established when they treated Jackie differently presumably based on the fact that they thought she’s a lesbian.”
TCC adopted a nondiscrimination policy that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation last March.
The administrators have 30 days to appeal the ruling, but Upton said he doesn’t “have any indication what they’re going to do at this point.”
If they appeal, the case will be held up, he said, but if they don’t, a trial could come this fall or by the end of the year.
Gill’s story began in August 2009 when she was hired as a temporary English instructor at the Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst after having taught high school English for 10 years and serving as department chair with the Fort Worth Independent School District.
In May 2010, she was informed that she and the other temporary instructors were allowed to apply for seven permanent teaching positions. She applied for all seven, but while the other temporary instructors were interviewed, she was not.
Gill was re-designated adjunct faculty and continued to teach until the end of 2010. She met with Dean Howell in August 2010, asking why she wasn’t allowed to interview for the permanent teaching positions.
Devlin approves all applications as “the gatekeeper who forwards applications to the hiring committee” according to the complaint. Howell allegedly told Gill that he was unsure why she was unable to interview.
Gill then related a conversation that she and Devlin had back in November 2009 when he allegedly told her that a student had accused her of flirting with female students and stated that the college and Texas “do not like homosexuals,” according to the complaint.
Howell informed Gill that he would speak to Devlin, but he never communicated with her further, and she allegedly received hostile treatment from Devlin after her conversation with the dean.
Although Gill was preparing for classes for the spring 2011 semester, she was removed as the professor per Devlin’s request.
The suit seeks compensation for the time Gill has been unemployed, as well as the opportunity to complete the application process at TCC, Upton said.
Gill also applied for 32 different positions at the district’s various campuses but has not been offered any position. Upton said Gill has not found a job and is working on finishing her doctorate at the University of Texas at Arlington.