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School system to change how it trains staff after settling lawsuit with transgender teacher who says she suffered abuse and harassment

<i>Calla Kessler/The Washington Post/Getty Images</i><br/>The Prince George's County school system in Maryland will change how it trains staff and administrators after it settled a lawsuit with Jennifer Eller
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Calla Kessler/The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Prince George's County school system in Maryland will change how it trains staff and administrators after it settled a lawsuit with Jennifer Eller

By Liam Reilly, CNN

The Prince George’s County school system in Maryland will change how it trains staff and administrators after it settled a lawsuit with a transgender teacher who says she suffered years of abuse and harassment in the district.

The settlement includes monetary compensation and requires policy and training changes that will protect transgender students and staff at public schools in the county, according to the statement posted on Lambda Legal’s website.

Lambda Legal, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, and law firm Arnold & Porter filed the lawsuit in 2018 on behalf of the teacher, Jennifer Eller.

Eller, who alleged in her lawsuit that she suffered years of abuse, harassment and retaliation from students, faculty, staff and parents, said the settlement “vindicates her pleas for help and sensitivity training on LGBTQ+ issues for students and staff.”

“I’m relieved to see this case finally come to a resolution and satisfied to see that our case led to the adoption of these policy changes and training protocols to improve the school environment for everyone, including LGBTQ+ students and teachers,” she said in the statement.

The lawsuit says Eller was a victim of discrimination and that it began after she transitioned in 2011. During her time as an educator, Eller repeatedly reported incidents to her employers, who either failed to act, took inadequate action, or ignored the complaints altogether, according to the lawsuit.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers, and supervisors,” Eller said in a 2018 statement.

The settlement comes amid an effort by conservative lawmakers to make it more difficult for transgender and nonbinary Americans to receive gender-affirming health care, play sports or change their birth certificates and other identification documents to match their gender identity.

Dozens of states have introduced bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, with advocacy groups calling 2021 a record-breaking year for such legislation.

Settlement brings policy changes

The Prince George’s County Board of Education says its policy changes include “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,” a Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesperson said in an email.

“Prince George’s County Public Schools reaffirms its commitment 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 spokesperson said. “The Lawsuit was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the Parties.”

The policies add reassurances that, in addition to “generic anti-bullying policies for students and staff,” the Board of Education is paying attention to the transgender community and protecting members of the community at the student and staff levels, Lori B. Leskin, a partner at Arnold & Porter, told CNN in an interview.

“It tells members of the LGBTQ community that they are welcome and belong in the system,” Leskin said. “One of the significant changes for us is that they issued policies titled ‘transgender and non-conforming.’ When it went up a year ago, it targeted students — it now includes staff. Which is what Ms. Eller experienced. If it existed at the time, it would have given her the protections she needed.”

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