Deaf Admin Sues DC University for Violating Her Freedom of Speech
An employee at a private university for the deaf is suing her employer for allegedly mistreating her and violating the anti-discrimination provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act, after she was put on leave for signing a petition that forced a public referendum on Maryland’s gay-marriage law.
In a recent Washington Post article, Gallaudet University’s Chief Diversity Officer Angela McCaskill said that her employer, a private university in Northeast Washington for the deaf and hard of hearing, violated the law and intentionally caused her emotional distress.
McCaskill, who worked for the college for more than 20 years, has not said whether she supports or opposes gay marriage, according to her attorney J. Wyndal Gordon. She has maintained that she signed the petition because she wanted to let voters decide (Maryland upheld the same-sex marriage law in Nov. 2012, with 52 percent of voters supporting ballot Question 6).
She said that a professor, M.J. Bienvenu, confronted her on Oct. 3, 2012, accusing her of being anti-gay for signing the petition, and promising that he would bring the matter to the attention of top university officials to obtain "retaliatory disciplinary action."
McCaskill was put on administrative leave, and then reinstated after three months, after much criticism from Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and both gay and Right Wing groups over the infringement of her First Amendment rights.
In a statement, Marylanders for Marriage Equality Campaign Manager Josh Levin said, "Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6 (the referendum on the ballot), which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law."
"Gallaudet University’s discriminatory action reflects a troubling nationwide trend of voter intimidation and bullying tactics against those who uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman," said President of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins in a statement that appeared in an October EDGE article.
But others noted that as a diversity officer, McCaskill was bound to promote diversity and inclusiveness in the college’s programs and activities, regardless of her personal opinion.
"If a person is responsible for ensuring equal opportunities for students regardless of their gender or sexual orientation and that person goes on record as being opposed to equal opportunities for people based on their gender and sexual orientation, it certainly appears that there is some incongruity," Director of Clemson University International Center of Academic Integrity Teddi Fishman told NBC News in an email.
In the lawsuit, McCaskill said that although she had complained about Bienvenu’s assertions, the university had not investigated her complaints. The incident has caused others to "prejudge" her, she alleged, and has damaged her professional reputation.