Transgender teacher settles discrimination suit with Prince George’s Co. schools

A transgender teacher, who says she endured years of insults from students and co-workers and lack of support from supervisors, settled her discrimination and harassment lawsuit with Prince George’s County, Maryland’s public school system on Monday.

Jennifer Eller began teaching English in 2008. According to her lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, in 2011 Eller informed her principal at Kenmoor Middle School that she would be transitioning.

According to Eller’s suit, filed in 2018, students at the school called her a pedophile, and continuously referred to her as “mister” and “he.”

The suit alleges: “An assistant principal told Ms. Eller not to wear skirts or dresses because it would make people uncomfortable. Ms. Eller complied, wearing slacks and blouses instead.”

Eller transferred to Friendly High School prior to the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

Her attorneys said Eller was subjected to more than just misgendering and hearing transphobic slurs from students and co-workers: “One day after school, the student and his friends approached Ms. Eller in the parking lot and verbally assaulted her, including telling her that they would ‘rape’ her and make her ‘their girlfriend.’”

Eller said school administrators failed to address her reports of harassment and discrimination, and allowed a hostile work environment to continue. Eller was told several times by administrators that nothing could be done.

“It took Defendants approximately three years to update Ms. Eller’s email address to reflect her new name,” according to the suit. On the date of the lawsuit filing, “even after the EEOC determination finding reasonable cause to believe that Ms. Eller was subjected to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, Defendant’s publicly accessible employee directory still lists Ms. Eller by her male birth name.”

Judge Theodore Chuang dismissed the case, after receiving word of settlement, one week before the scheduled Sept. 28 trial date. Specifics of the settlement are not included in court filings.

Eller was represented pro bono by a team of lawyers at Lambda Legal and Arnold & Porter.

“The settlement is a meaningful result for our client, whose primary goal in bringing this suit was to ensure that no other individuals in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system endured the same treatment that she did. Our hope is that the policies and training protocols that have been and will be implemented will help foster a more inclusive and accepting environment for all LGBTQ+ individuals in the school system,” said Arnold & Porter partner Lori Leskin.  

Contacted by WTOP, the school system’s director of communications, Meghan Gebreselassie, said they’re committed to “promoting and maintaining learning and working environments that are safe, positive and affirming for all students and staff regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The Lawsuit was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the Parties.”

Gebreselassie said the School Board and PGCPS are constantly reviewing their policies and procedures: “We continue to do so as evidenced by steps we have taken to ensure a welcoming environment for all including: mandatory training around LGBTQ+ inclusive learning environments for staff and administrators, a systemic policy and AP outlining Inclusive Environments for LGBTQIA+ individuals, support for student-led clubs and Gender and Sexuality Alliances and a strategic plan built around educational equity.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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