Stacy Bailey, left and her wife, Julie Vazquez. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
Charging discrimination based on sexual orientation, Stacy Bailey filed suit in federal court
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Since Mansfield ISD placed art teacher Stacy Bailey on administrative leave last fall, the district hasn’t opened an investigation into her case but has rehired her for the next school year, according to her attorney, Jason Smith.
Bailey was named teacher of the year at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School twice and has been teaching at the school for 10 years. On the first day of school last fall, she shared pictures of her family and friends with her class — something all the teachers do, according to her wife, Julie Vazquez.
Among the pictures was a picture of Vazquez, then her fiancée. One child told her parents who filed a complaint with the school.
Vazquez and Smith spoke at a press conference Tuesday, May 8, in Belo Gardens, across from the federal courthouse in downtown Dallas, after filing a federal lawsuit against the district. Bailey declined to speak on the advice of her attorney, because of the pending suit.
Smith said they filed the lawsuit because Bailey has been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation. That discrimination, he said, violates the Texas Constitution.
At a recent school board meeting, some parents claimed Bailey was promoting an extreme agenda by discussing her sexual orientation. Smith said his client was simply showing pictures — something all the teachers were doing — and those pictures included some of Vazquez, to whom she is now legally married.
Mansfield has offered Bailey an assignment at a secondary school. Bailey has refused the offer because she enjoys teaching at Charlotte Anderson, according to Vazquez. Accepting the offer would also say it’s alright for the district to pick and choose where an LGBT employee may work.
“Eight months of isolation and mistreatment by MISD violated my wife’s constitutional rights,” Vazquez said, saying that a transfer would send the wrong message.
Smith mentioned a related case, saying that it supports Bailey’s position in her lawsuit. In 2011, Jackie Gill 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.
Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal handled that case. He said the college moved to dismiss the case, but the court found in favor of Gill.
He said as soon as the court ruled that refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position would violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, the defendants “settled quickly.”
And while Bailey is not charging discrimination under Title VII, Upton said a number of Courts of Appeals have ruled that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation. Citing the right examples in court, he said, should support her case.
In her lawsuit, Bailey claims school district official Kimberley Cantu told her, “You can’t promote your lifestyle in the classroom.”
Bailey responded, “We plan to get married. When I have a wife, I should be able to say this is my wife without fear of harassment. When I state that, it is a fact about my life, not a political statement.”
According to the lawsuit, Cantu responded, “Well right now it kind of is [a political statement].”
The couple married in March. Vazquez said she and Bailey have been together about seven years and originally met at a softball game, which she called a very stereotypical story.
“My wife’s life has been a roller coaster,” Vazquez said, adding that Bailey is looking for an apology from the school district, a nondiscrimination policy put in place in the district and reinstatement at Charlotte Anderson Elementary.
At the press conference, one reporter acknowledged Bailey’s rights but asked about the rights of the parents who complained. According to the lawsuit, the parents of the child in Bailey’s class recruited other parents to file additional complaints.
“Parents don’t have a right to demand the school district discriminates,” Smith said. “All families deserve respect.”
Mansfield ISD released a brief statement about the lawsuit saying they deny the charges.
“Once facts are fully known and parties deposed, we’re confident this lawsuit will not warrant merit.”
The response continues saying that in the decade Bailey’s been with the school district, “there has never been an issue with her open sexual preferences until this year.”
The district claims Bailey’s behavior in the classroom changed during this school year, and that her students voiced “concerns to their parents.”
District guidelines require “controversial subjects be taught in ‘an impartial and objective manner.’”
Vazquez said her wife wasn’t teaching anything, just showing pictures of family, just as all teachers in the school did at the beginning of the school year.
Mansfield’s statement concludes that MISD “is and has been an inclusive, supportive environment for LGBT staff for decades.”
Bailey’s request that sexual orientation be added to the district’s nondiscrimination policy earlier this year was denied.
Upton questioned whether a jury would agree that MISD has been supportive for decades.
“They say they’re supportive, but they refuse to put it into their policy. Do you only feel that way when it’s convenient?” Upton said he’d ask representatives of the district.