Teacher accuses TC College of discrimination

Gill says English Department chair at Northeast Campus told her the state and the school ‘do not like homosexuals’

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.

Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.

Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.

Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.

Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.

Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.

The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.

On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.

That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”

Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.

Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.

Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.

She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.

Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”

And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.

Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.

“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Students, faculty at Commerce campus take first steps in creating ‘safe spaces’ at university

MAKING PLANS | Career Services employee Gregory Shirley takes notes on the Safe Space presentation. (James Bright/Dallas Voice)

JAMES BRIGHT  | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

COMMERCE — Students and faculty at Texas A&M University-Commerce recently took the first steps in establishing safe spaces on the school’s campus.

English professor Dr. Robin Reid and school counselor Dr. Emile Cate held a planning meeting April 14 to set up a committee to create the safe spaces. “Our goal is to take over everything and make the entire campus a safe space,” Reid said.

The meeting centered around discussion of how to set up a safe space system on campus. The current plan is to model the structure of A&M-Commerce’s safe space initiative after the one already in use at Texas A&M-College Station, which Reid said has been well established for some time.

“The safe space is an educational and outreach program,” Reid said. “It’s really an ally program to speak out and say people have rights and people have access to equality.”

The program will allow for several areas on campus to be denoted with some sort of symbol that will tell students, faculty, staff and community members that the area is a safe space.

These areas can be marked with a number of symbols and be located in offices, recreational areas and even entire buildings.

“It’s very much tied to training that people would then post the material and make visible the symbol of equal rights,” Reid said.

The initial primary goal of implementing this program, according to Cate, is to get students, faculty and staff trained in the safe space system on campus.

“We are hoping to have this done by early fall, so we can have people going out and giving these presentations across campus and the community,” Cate said.

Specific training events will be set up, according to Reid. There will be several different opportunities for people of varying involvement whether they are students, faculty, or community members to learn from these classes.

“We need to setup some discussion and support groups that students will feel comfortable going to,” she said.

Cate said all members of the counseling department were well trained and value all issues of diversity including those involving the LGBT community.

“We are available,” she said. “Everyone is ready to give support to the students and the issues they might be experiencing.”

More than 30 people attended the meeting, representing different groups on campus. There were several students who said they had experienced discrimination in class and wanted to learn how they could help educate those on campus.

The program also drew the attention of several different organizations on campus, including career development, and several faculty members such as Mary Hendrix, vice president of Student Access and Success.

Over the next few years, Cate said, she hopes the safe space program will filter to all parts of campus and the community.

“We need to establish a foundation and embed it in the campus culture,” Reid said.

The meeting concluded with a discussion over the committee’s mission statement and suggestions from several students on what wording should be changed. Once the discussion was finished Reid broke the group up into several sub-committees to discuss marketing, web development and training.

—  John Wright