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Lesbian teacher wins Hesperia lawsuit, says she was fired for helping gay students

Julia Frost

Julia Frost, the lesbian teacher who helped Hesperia high schoolers blow the whistle on administrators’ mistreatment of gay and lesbian students and said she was fired in retaliation has won a lawsuit against the school district. Photo: Lambda Legal.

Julia Frost, the lesbian teacher who helped Hesperia high schoolers blow the whistle on administrators’ mistreatment of gay and lesbian students and said she was fired in retaliation, has won a huge financial settlement against the troubled school district, her attorneys announced today.

$850,000 settlement, improve policies

Frost, a former English teacher and co-advisor of the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Sultana High School, will receive $850,000 as part of a settlement agreement with the Hesperia Unified School District. Frost sued the district in November 2013.

In 2015, after the ACLU of Southern California sent the school district a letter outlining allegations of a hostile environment for gay and lesbian students, the district agreed to revise its policies requiring regular nondiscrimination training and clarifying its discrimination complaint procedures.

“It was important for me to bring this challenge, but I’m also happy it’s settled,” Frost said in a statement Thursday. “I’m also pleased to know that there are now clear, written policies in place at HUSD that hopefully will not allow what happened to me to happen to anyone else who, like me, was doing their job and looking after the interests of students.”

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District response

Officials at Hesperia Unified wouldn’t speak with Q Voice News, but did send a statement. In part, they denied Frost’s allegations and said the settlement “is not an admission of guilt or an acceptance of liability for any alleged wrongdoing by the District” and is “was simply an appropriate, prudent financial decision.”

Lawsuit claims

Frost’s complaint outlined 10 claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Education Code concerning the rights of lesbian, gay, and gender non-conforming teachers and students.

“Many people mistakenly believe there is no anti-LGBTQ discrimination,” said Jennifer Pizer, an attorney with Lambda Legal, who helped represent Frost. “Part of California is very welcoming and the California has some great laws on the books for the education sphere. But we are a big state, and there are a variety of social climates.

“Many people still don’t understand what anti-LGBTQ discrimination looks like,” Pizer said. “This lawsuit was important to bring because conditions for teachers who are openly LGBTQ are among the most challenging.”

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Discrimination, harassment

The dispute first came to the public’s attention in March 2013, when the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to Hesperia Unified on behalf of the students in the Sultana Gay-Straight Alliance, who described pervasive discrimination and harassment by teachers and school administrators.

Frost fired

A few weeks before the ACLU sent its letter to Hesperia, Frost, who had assisted the students in contacting the ACLU, was fired by the school district.

In 2015, while denying the hostile environment existed, Hesperia implemented an array of policy changes, such as required faculty and staff awareness training.

Frost’s courage

Frost’s co-counsel, Dan Stormer, said her lawsuit “forced Hesperia to establish desperately needed policies protecting the rights of LGBT students and teachers” and “compensates her for the harm HUSD caused to her career.”

“I applaud Ms. Frost’s courage in standing up for LGBT teachers and students,” Stormer said, “and insisting that our schools must be welcoming for LGBT people.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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