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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 18, 2006

Teacher fired for Day of Silence lesson gets a jury trial

Columbus--A London, Ohio, teacher who was fired for telling her class about the National Day of Silence will have her day in court on December 11.

Jimmie K. Beall had excellent performance evaluations from her hiring in 2000 to the 2003 Day of Silence, when she gave a high school government class a PowerPoint presentation on it.

The day is an annual April observance when individuals, often students, remain silent to call attention to LGBT harassment and discrimination.

During the presentation, Beall did not speak, effectively coming out to students and school personnel who didn�t already know she is lesbian.

Upon hearing about it, Beall�s principal called her lesson the same as teaching religion and said she was on �shaky ground.�

Two days later, he withdrew his three-week-old recommendation to offer her a three-year contract and instead told the board of education to let her go.

Beall sued the London City School District, just west of Columbus, and its superintendent Thomas Coyne. Judge John D. Holschuh of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio last week set a jury trial for December 11.

Lesbian and gay teachers don�t generally fare well in job discrimination suits, but in this one, Beall has been successful pressing her case using the 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision Romer v. Evans, a similar 1998 decision in the same court and a federal court decision from Utah. She also has emails that she says show likely discrimination on the part of school officials.

Holschuh denied the school district�s attempt to dismiss the case with a June 8 ruling that suggested that sexual orientation is a �protected class� even though there is no Ohio or federal law prohibiting such discrimination, and the district has no policy against it.

The ruling makes no distinction between �protected classes� and �suspect classes� protected by law from job discrimination. Currently, suspect classes include race, religion, sex and age. Courts have denied suspect class protection to things that aren�t covered by law including sexual orientation, gender identity and mental retardation.

If Holschuh�s legal framework is upheld, it could extend protection to gays and lesbians beyond school systems throughout public sector employment.

In the June ruling, Holschuh noted the timing of the events and the e-mailed reactions to the Day of Silence lesson among school administrators and board members.

Beall now works as a counselor in the Columbus Public Schools.

Erika Pearsol-Christie of Cloppert, Latanick, Sauter and Washburn represents Beall through an arrangement with her union, the Ohio Education Association.

Michael Valentine of Reminger and Reminger represents the school system and Coyne.

Beall is asking for $25,000 actual damages and punitive damages to be determined at trial and attorney fees.

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