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University must reinstate trans professor wrongly dismissed after coming out

Vic Parsons September 14, 2021
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Trans professor Rachel Tudor has won the right to return to work.

A protester holds a 'We Belong' placard during a trans rights demonstration. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A university that fired a professor after she came out as trans must reinstate her with tenure, a US appeals court has ruled.

The trans English professor, Rachel Tudor, won her sex discrimination lawsuit against Southeastern Oklahoma State University, claiming she was denied tenure and ultimately fired after she came out.

The university had argued that the hostility engendered by the six-year legal battle with Tudor, and the school’s concerns about her work, meant it shouldn’t have to reinstate her – but three judges at the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected that argument, according to Reuters.

The court said that because Tudor won her 2015 discrimination lawsuit it was clear that she would have been granted tenure if she wasn’t trans, ruling out the university’s arguments about her academic record.

“A tenured university professor holds an insular position that can effectively operate without the need for extensive collaboration with colleague or schools administrators,” circuit judge David Ebel wrote.

Tudor’s case, which was the first discrimination lawsuit filed by Obama’s Department of Justice on behalf of a trans person, saw the school settle in 2017.

But Tudor intervened after Donald Trump was elected, winning a jury verdict of $1million later that year.

That amount was reduced to $300,000 by a judge in 2018, who cited the caps on damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. The same judge, district judge Robin Cauthron in Oklahoma City, also awarded Tudor $60,000 in “front pay” to reflect her lost future earnings – despite her seeking more than $2 million in front pay.

In 2018, Cauthron denied Tudor’s request to be reinstated to her job with tenure, accepting the school’s claim that many other faculty members opposed her return and that it did not have the funds to pay her salary. Tudor appealed this decision, and the 10th Circuit ruling said her evidence was clearly sufficient for a jury to rule in her favour.

The panel of judges referred to evidence of the school’s dean and vice president making comments about Tudor’s appearance and lifestyle, the fact that a faculty committee had voted to grant her tenure, and testimony from experts affirming that Tudor is more qualified than other, tenured, professors in her department.

And the judges also agreed with Tudor that there was not the kind of “extreme hostility” that would make her reinstatement impossible.

“There are plenty of workarounds and solutions making reinstatement possible in cases where some animosity exists, such as a remote office, a new supervisor, or a clear set of workplace guidelines,” the judges wrote.

Related topics: Civil Rights, Trans

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