21 Dec 2018
A Maryland school district abused one of its transgender teachers until she checked into a psychiatric program and ultimately resigned, according to a federal lawsuit filed by her attorneys and Lambda Legal.
Jennifer Eller is suing Prince George’s County Public Schools for allowing students to call her pedophile, refusing to update her email address to reflect her name for three years, and deadnaming her in the school’s directory.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, describes seven years of alleged misgendering from students, teachers, administrators, and parents in the district across three different schools where Eller worked from 2008 to 2011, when she resigned.
“I woke up each day afraid to go to work because I didn’t know where the next attack would come from, but I already knew full well that the school administrators would do nothing to support me,” Eller said in a statement released by Lambda Legal. “My pleas for help, for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, fell on deaf ears. Finally, the harassment and the humiliation became unbearable and I had no other alternative than to resign.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools did not respond to a phone call from INTO seeking comment.
The complaint alleges that when Eller informed Kenmoor Middle School she would be transitioning in 2011, she became a target of repeated harassment.
“Students called her a pedophile, and the human resources representative, enlisted to help her through the transition, demanded that she present as male and told her that a note from her therapist regarding her transition was ‘garbage,’” her complaint states.
It goes on to say she was not allowed to wear a dress. When she transferred to Friendly High School, the abuse only escalated. Students threatened to rape her and Principal Raynah Adams repeatedly ignored her reports of abuse from students, staff, and parents, she alleges. Students refused to cooperate with her in class, referred to her as “a man,” and said an earthquake was God’s punishment on the school for hiring her, referring to her as an anti-transgender slur.
In 2015, the school allegedly cut its own training on transgender sensitivity and never rescheduled the lesson.
In 2016, Eller transferred to James Madison Middle School where she allegedly continued to face discrimination until she sought outpatient psychiatric services at a local hospital. She resigned in August 2017.
The lawsuit hinges on the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act, and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act.
Eller is seeking unspecified damages and back pay from the district. She currently works as a youth counselor for the United States Navy’s Child & Youth Programs.
In a statement, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said Eller was forced to leave her job because administrators refused to take abuse against her seriously.
“The school district’s actions contravene everything our schools should foster: an inclusive and welcoming educational environment for all students and teachers,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “We look forward to vindicating Ms. Eller’s rights.”