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TCC, former professor settle federal discrimination lawsuit

07/17/2012 11:35 PM

07/17/2012 11:47 PM

FORT WORTH -- A former adjunct professor at Tarrant County College will get an estimated $160,000 as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit that claimed college officials didn't let her interview for a full-time post because she is a lesbian.

Jacqueline Gill's settlement, which also includes a letter of recommendation from TCC, was announced Tuesday by Lambda Legal, the national group that helped Gill with her civil rights claim.

Gill said it was important to bring the legal challenge but described it as "grueling."

"It's been extremely difficult," she said. "There's certainly been more than one occasion when I've cried. I think they fully expected me to just walk away. You can't do that because then nothing ever changes."

The agreement was reached through a court-appointed mediator. The parties had until Aug. 2 to reach a settlement, said Kenneth Upton the staff attorney with Lambda Legal who represented Gill.

Angela Robinson, TCC's general counsel, denied that any discrimination took place, saying no "credible evidence" was introduced to show that the district practices or condones discrimination.

"Although a financial settlement emerged as the least costly resolution to this matter, the district continues to deny the allegations/claims by Ms. Gill," Robinson said. "The district has consistently and correctly maintained that sexual orientation is not a consideration for district employment or the admission of students."

No qualified immunity

Gill, a former high school English teacher and a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Arlington, sued in September claiming that TCC violated her constitutional rights.

Gill said Eric Devlin, chairman of the English department at the Northeast Campus, and Antonio Howell, the campus dean of humanities, violated the Equal Protection Clause when Devlin told Gill that "Texas and TCC don't like homosexuals."

A condition of the lawsuit's settlement dismissed Devlin and Howell as defendants. Previously, TCC had said in court that Gill was not offered a permanent position based on job performance.

In March, U.S. District Judge Terry Means denied a motion from TCC to dismiss the lawsuit. Means said in his ruling that administrators are not entitled to qualified immunity because they knew or should have known that discrimination by public employers based on sexual orientation can violate the Constitution.

Upton said that decision is expected to be published in the Federal Supplement and may be used as a reference in future cases, he said.

"It's a decision that other courts can find persuasive," Upton said. He said that this case serves as a reminder that even though there are no such protections for gay and lesbian workers in the private sector, government entities must abide by federal rules.

Policy changes

In March 2011, TCC approved changes to its anti-discrimination employment policy that included sexual orientation. TCC leaders said that move was unrelated to the lawsuit.

Gill was hired in August 2009 as a full-time temporary professor at TCC's Northeast Campus in Hurst. She said she was told that it was customary for TCC to hire full-time instructors on a temporary basis. Teachers who completed their first year are hired when the posts become permanent.

Gill has been trying to find teaching work at middle and high schools. She has also applied for 42 positions at TCC. Despite the settlement, she said she would have liked for TCC to hire her back.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianestar

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