School of Education: Legal Seminar Videos

Illegal Discrimination: Scenario 2 Discussion


Scenario #2 Discussion

Dr. Erma Jean Sims,
Sonoma State University

Here's some responses to the questions that you have been considering.

Question number one: Does calling Matthew a faggot constitute illegal discrimination, and if so, what type? Calling Mathew a faggot as an isolated incident that happened only once would not constitute illegal discrimination. However, you may remember that in the scenario, Matthew has been called a faggot routinely; meaning on a regular basis, not only in the hallway, but also in Mr. Jones classroom. The fact that this name-calling is on-going, persistent, and pervasive constitutes illegal discrimination. This discrimination is based on a sexual orientation.

Question number two: Does Mr. Jones have a responsibility to address the name-calling and rumors about Matthew? If so, how? Mr. Jones, as a teacher in the school, has a responsibility to address the name-calling and rumors about Matthew. He must interrupt that kind of behavior. He has a responsibility to alert the students that name-calling and rumors of this nature constitute illegal discrimination. You may also want to take this as an opportunity to use his classroom instructional time to educate students about sexual orientation and why names like faggot and rumors about AIDS constitute illegal discrimination. This is an excellent opportunity to teach about respect for all and tolerance for other people's choices, certainly around sexual orientation.

Question number three: Did Mr. Jones respond to Matthew's question regarding Winter Ball dance in a way that would prevent him from being accused of illegal discrimination? On the surface, Mr. Jones's response to Matthew indicating that he thinks it would be a good idea for him not to subject himself to any more ridicule or teasing on the surface seems like just his opinion and good advice. However, if we look at this comment in a deeper way, we realize that Mr. Jones is conveying his discomfort around sexual orientation. As a classroom teacher, he has a responsibility not to prejudice the ideas and opinions of his students based on his own personal preferences around sexual orientation. Mr. Jones has indicated that he thinks it's a better idea for Matthew to take Susie; certainly demonstrating a strong preference towards heterosexuality. It's important for Mr. Jones to keep his personal comments and sexual orientation preferences to himself and allow Matthew to take whomever he would like to the dance. Legally, Matthew has the right to take someone of the same sex to this Winter Ball.

As a classroom teacher, you may want to consult your school districts policy on proms, winter balls, spring balls, and other formal dances to see if your school district has a specific policy about not taking same sex partners to a dance. Even if your school district has a policy on not allowing students to take same sex partners to these formal dances; please be aware that this is very fertile ground for a lawsuit based on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

CREDITS: Instruction and Content by Dr. Erma Jean Sims, Sonoma State University. Videography and Technical support by Mark Niemann, Sonoma State University