Professor files federal lawsuit accusing Tarrant County College of anti-gay discrimination

Posted on 07 Sep 2011 at 12:51pm
Jackie Gill, left, watches as Lambda Legal staff attorney Ken Upton speaks to a reporter Wednesday morning during a press conference announcing Gill’s employment discrimination lawsuit against Tarrant County College.

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Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill today filed suit against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that after serving as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year, she was denied the opportunity to apply for permanent position with the school because of the department chair’s bias against what he perceived as her sexual orientation.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Uptown, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibsonb, Dunn and Crutcher. The suit names as defendants chair of Northeast Campus’ English Department, Eric Devlin, and Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell.

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.

Gill said that in 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.

A month later, 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 lawsuit filed today in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. 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.”

Despite the fact that Gill continued to teach at TCC through December 2010 — receiving only high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin — when her position was made permanent, she was not allowed to apply. She said that she complained to Antonio R. Howell, division dean of humanities at the campus, and when he failed to respond, she took her complaint to the school’s vice president, and then the school president. They also failed to respond, she said.

Gill 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, she said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

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

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.”

See the Sept. 9 print edition of Dallas Voice for complete coverage of the case.

 

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