A Texas elementary school art teacher who was placed on administrative leave after showing her students a picture of her fiancée has reached a $100,000 settlement after a judge ruled that her suspension was unconstitutional.
"The agreements the district and I made in this settlement are a positive first step in making things better for gay employees, gay students and gay families in Mansfield," the teacher, Stacy Bailey, told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.
The Mansfield Independent School District said that the two parties agreed to settle in an "amicable" manner and that it denied "any wrongdoing or liability," telling NBC News in an email that the district wanted to "avoid the time, expense, stress and other impacts of continuing litigation, which would interfere with the mission of educating the students."
Bailey, who began working at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School in the Dallas suburb of Arlington over a decade ago, sued the district and two school administrators in May 2018, claiming that the defendants wrongly discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.
According to the suit, a parent complained to the school board and the superintendent that Bailey was promoting a "homosexual agenda" in the classroom by showing students a picture of the woman who is now her wife during a "Get to Know Your Teacher" presentation. The complaint eventually led to Bailey — who was twice selected Teacher of the Year at her school — being placed on administrative leave in September 2017 and then being asked the next month for her resignation, which she refused to give.
After the lawsuit was filed, the school district said it did "not warrant merit" and categorically denied the allegations, claiming in a statement that the district "has been an inclusive, supportive environment for LGBT staff for decades."
"The issue at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School is whether Mrs. Bailey has followed district guidelines requiring that controversial subjects be taught in 'an impartial and objective manner," the district told NBC News at the time. "Teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues."
In August 2018, four months after she filed her lawsuit, Bailey was transferred to nearby Lake Ridge High School. While Bailey was happy to return to the classroom, her attorney, Jason C.N. Smith, said she was "disappointed that she doesn't get to return to Charlotte Anderson." Shortly thereafter, the district filed a motion to dismiss Bailey's lawsuit, saying her new high school position "is arguably a more prestigious position than that of an elementary school art teacher."
Texas, like most states, does not have a law explicitly prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. However, Smith said the defendants violated Bailey's constitutionally protected civil rights.
As part of the settlement, the school district will provide mandatory training on LGBTQ issues to its educators and staffers, including human resources employees and counselors. It will also compel the district's board of trustees to vote on whether to add sexual orientation protections to its policies.
"The judge's decision in this case sends a message to school districts all across this country: The Constitution protects gay teachers from discrimination," Smith told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.
In addition to Bailey's financial settlement — $10,000 of which she has committed to donating to an unspecified nonprofit focusing on LGBTQ student issues — her 2017 suspension has been rescinded. Smith said he will also donate $10,000 of his reduced fees to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization.
"The Human Rights Campaign was proud to stand with Ms. Bailey as she faced and then challenged discrimination head on," Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "Justice has been served in this case, and a talented teacher has won the right to be herself in the classroom and in her workplace. No one should face retribution simply for being themselves."