Is it OK for a teacher to show the kids pictures of her and her fiancé? What if her fiancé is a woman?

Today we offer for your consideration the case of the elementary school art teacher who showed her young students a picture of her and her fiancé.  There is nothing unusual or noteworthy about that.  It was the first day of school, and many teachers were introducing themselves to their new classes with some personal information, including pictures of family members.  But Stacy Bailey’s fiancé was Julie Vazquez—two women.  At least one parent heard about this and complained that  the teacher was promoting the gay lifestyle in the classroom. 

According to the teacher, this is what led to her lengthy administrative leave and involuntary reassignment to the high school.  She had been with the district for ten years, had earned exemplary evaluations and had twice been named Teacher of the Year.  Then this happened.  

Then the lawsuit happened.  The teacher alleged that the district had 1) burdened her right to marry; 2) discriminated against her in a way that violated the Equal Protection Clause; and 3) deprived her of her right to Due Process of Law. She sued the district, the HR Director and the Superintendent. 

RIGHT TO MARRY.  The court dismissed the claim about the right to marry, for the simple reason that Ms. Bailey and Ms. Vazquez got married.  The district did not halt or delay the marriage.

EQUAL PROTECTION.  The court held that Ms. Bailey had alleged a legitimate claim under the Equal Protection Clause. This is the most interesting and most important part of this decision.   The school district asserted that Ms. Bailey refused to comply with its directives about age-appropriate conversations with children in the classroom.  If and when the case goes to trial and all of the facts are heard, perhaps that will be the outcome. But at this early stage of the litigation the court held that Ms. Bailey might be the victim of unconstitutional discrimination.  Key Quotes:

Until the time a parent complained about her sexual orientation, she taught at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School without incident.  Based on the pleadings, the court reasonably draws the inference that Mansfield ISD’s decision to place her on administrative leave for eight months and then not permit her to resume her job teaching art to elementary school students was based on her sexual orientation and a desire to appease complaining parents in the community operating on the basis of outdated stereotypes about homosexuals. 

The “negative reaction” some members of the community may have to homosexuals is not a proper basis for discriminating against them.

You want to offer a guess as to what famous case the court cited in support of that proposition?  If you guessed Brown v. Board of Education, you got it right.  You may recall that there was just a bit of “negative reaction” from “some members of the community” to that decision also.  

DUE PROCESS.  The court also held that Ms. Bailey alleged a violation of her right to due process. This is based on allegations that the district did not follow its normal disciplinary procedures and deviated from custom by issuing a public statement about a personnel matter.  This part of the court’s decision is short on legal support, and may be difficult for Ms. Bailey to ultimately prevail on since neither administrative leave nor a reassignment generally trigger a duty to provide due process.

LIABILITY OF THE DISTRICT.  The court held that the district faces possible liability for the alleged discrimination.  School districts can be held liable in cases like this only if the court concludes that school policy or official action violated a person’s rights.  Here, the policy did not call for different treatment of gay and lesbian employees.  However, the court cited a press release the district issued to the community about Ms. Bailey’s situation:

Based on these allegations, and its reading of the Mansfield ISD Press Release that is part of the pleadings, the court can reasonably infer that Mansfield ISD’s Board of Trustees issued or approved a policy that intentionally discriminated against Bailey based on her sexual orientation.

LIABILITY OF THE ADMINISTRATORS.  The court concluded that the HR Director was entitled to qualified immunity because the pleadings in the case alleged that the superintendent, not the HR Director, made the decisions about Ms. Bailey.  The court granted qualified immunity to the superintendent on the “right to marry” claim, but not on the Equal Protection claim.  Thus the superintendent does face potential personal liability, and has filed a Notice of Appeal to the 5th Circuit on this issue.

This is just the first step in this case, which has a long way to go. The teacher has not proven that she is the victim of sex discrimination, but she has cleared an important first hurdle. Some well-informed readers may wonder how the pending SCOTUS case about discrimination based on sexual orientation will affect this case.  The answer is: not at all. The SCOTUS case is about the interpretation of a statute-Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This case has nothing to do with Title VII. Ms. Bailey’s case is based exclusively on the U.S. Constitution--the very same constitutional provision that was the basis for Brown v. Board of Education. 

The case is Bailey v. Mansfield ISD, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas on November 21, 2019. We found it at 2019 WL 6216669.


Tomorrow:  IEE reimbursement.