April 16, 2019 at 9:18 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County resumes
Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

Negotiations aimed at amicably settling a lawsuit filed last November by a transgender teacher against the Prince George’s County public school system for allegedly subjecting her to discrimination and harassment because of her gender identity have been unsuccessful, according to court records.

The records show that proceedings for the lawsuit filed by English teacher Jennifer Eller, 37, resumed on April 1 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in accordance with a schedule set by the judge in the event that a settlement could not be reached by March 28.

Disclosure of the settlement negotiations first surfaced in a joint motion filed in court on Feb. 26 by attorneys for Eller and attorneys for the P.G. Public Schools and two other parties being sued by Eller. The motion, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang, called for a 30-day suspension of all action related to the lawsuit to give the two parties time to negotiate a settlement.

Neither the attorneys representing Eller, one of whom is with the LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal, nor those representing the school system publicly disclosed the settlement discussions or the failure of the discussions to reach a settlement as of March 28. The Washington Blade learned about those developments from the public court records.

When contacted by the Blade, a spokesperson for Lambda Legal declined to disclose a reason for why a settlement could not be reached within the 30-day period designated by the judge for settlement discussions while the court proceedings were put on hold.

“A settlement has not been reached at the moment and the case schedule will proceed according to public schedule,” said Lambda Legal spokesperson Samy Nemir.

Nemir told the Blade in response to a question that a settlement still could be reached at a later time and that “process is still ongoing.”

A school system spokesperson has declined to respond to the Blade’s repeated requests for comment on the lawsuit, saying school officials never comment on pending litigation.

Eller charges in her lawsuit that as a female transgender teacher she was subjected to five years of discrimination, harassment, abuse and retaliation by school administrators, fellow teachers, students, and parents after she transitioned in 2011 from male to female.

The lawsuit says she was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

In addition to P.G. County Public Schools, the lawsuit names as defendants the P.G. County Board of Education and the school system’s interim CEO Monica Goldson.

In its official response to the lawsuit filed in court on Feb. 11, attorneys for the school system deny the allegations in the lawsuit and claim the school system had in place nondiscrimination polices that covered gender identity and sexual orientation for school employees and students.

Although the school system’s response denies the lawsuit’s overall allegations it doesn’t provide specific responses to the lawsuit’s numerous examples of  instances of harassment against Eller and the alleged failure by school officials to put a stop to the harassment during Eller’s five-year tenure as a teacher in the school system.

The school system also states in its response that Eller may have failed to exhaust administrative remedies required prior to filing a lawsuit and that the lawsuit missed deadlines for certain legal claims. It also says her legal claims may be disqualified because of her “voluntary resignation of employment,” an assertion disputed by Eller’s attorneys who say the resignation was forced by the abuse and harassment Eller faced on the job.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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