Prince George's County Schools settle discrimination lawsuit with transgender teacher A transgender teacher in Prince George's County experienced "pervasive and severe" harassment for years, according to the lawsuit.
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Prince George's County Schools settle discrimination lawsuit with transgender teacher

Jennifer Eller taught English at three schools in Prince George's County between 2008 and 2017. Courtey Jennifer Eller/ hide caption

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Courtey Jennifer Eller/

A former Prince George's County public school teacher has settled a discrimination lawsuit with the school system, alleging she suffered years of "pervasive and severe" verbal and physical threats and attacks because of her identity as transgender woman.

Jennifer Eller taught English at three schools in Prince George's County from 2008 to 2017, where she alleged there was "a culture of discrimination and harassment towards transgender individuals," perpetuated by administrators, teachers, students, and parents.

"I am very grateful that it is resolved," said Eller, in an interview with DCist after the settlement was announced.

As part of the settlement, the Prince George's County School Board agreed to adopt or strengthen policies and procedures aimed at preventing harassment, and to protect transgender people, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney with Lambda Legal, who represented Eller. The policies, he said, "serve as a model of what needs to happen in other school districts across the country."

"Nobody should have to experience what Jennifer Eller experienced over years," said Gonzalez-Pagan. "It is because of people like Jennifer Eller that we're able to achieve progress."

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The settlement also includes monetary compensation, the amount of which is confidential, Gonzalez-Pagan said.

The settlement comes as officials in numerous states are attacking transgender rights in schools. In neighboring Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) recently proposed a set of policies that would no longer guarantee the right of transgender students to use names, pronouns, and school facilities that reflect their gender identity. Over the summer, laws went into effect in six other states rolling back the rights of LGBTQ+ students.

Eller filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Maryland in December 2018, represented pro-bono by Lambda Legal and Arnold & Porter. Eller was incorrectly assigned the male gender at birth, according to the lawsuit, and transitioned to her true gender in 2011, while working at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover.

"Following her transition, Ms. Eller woke up every day knowing that she would be commuting to a work environment so hostile that it debilitated her mental and physical health," the lawsuit reads. According to the lawsuit, "the instances of discrimination and insults against Ms. Eller are difficult to count" – yet it enumerates nearly two dozen of them.

During her career at Prince George's County Public Schools, Eller twice transferred to new schools in an attempt to find a better work environment, but the harassment continued, she alleged.

After transferring to Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Eller was frequently mis-gendered by students and even an associate principal, the suit alleges, as well as being subjected to trans-phobic slurs. In one instance in 2012, students approached Eller in the school parking lot, threatened to rape her, and laughed about it, saying she was "actually a man," according to the lawsuit.

"Aside from recurring micro-aggressions of having my birth name thrown out at me or being constantly referred to by improper pronouns or through slurs – on top of that, there was also a developing fear for my safety," said Eller.

Throughout this, Eller reported incidents to administrators, who "willfully ignored the culture of discrimination and harassment that was being created," according to the suit.

Eller said what she experienced as a teacher is not unique to Prince George's County – she's talked to teachers and students across the country and heard similar stories. "There is a common thread of having experienced both direct and indirect bigotry and violence within the school systems," she said.

Prince George's County Public Schools officials did not respond to a request for comment.

In court filings, lawyers for the school system argued that the suit should be tossed out, based on the statute of limitations. While they did not dispute specific incidents of harassment that Eller alleged, they downplayed their significance.

While Eller "undoubtedly believes the alleged incidents she endured was severe or pervasive, objectively it was not," reads a motion for summary judgement from March 2021, filed by lawyers representing the school district. For example, an administrator at Friendly High School "testified that Plaintiff was beloved by the students, students were protective of her, received a lot of accolades from parents, and that her complaints of students were anomalies, which were addressed each and every time by administrators," according to the filing.

The protections secured as part of the settlement include new or strengthened policies and procedures related to inclusivity and nondiscrimination, workplace bullying and harassment, social media, and interventions for student behavior, according to Eller's legal team. The school board has also committed to conducting trainings on LGBTQ+ inclusivity through Welcoming Schools.

Eller said these new protections are particularly important to her.

"I firmly believe that if these types of policies had been in place, that my experience within the system would have been different than it was."

In fact, she says, she might still be a teacher working in Prince George's County Public Schools.

"The environment we work in and go to school in is such a vital part of how we develop as a person."

This story originally appeared on DCist.com.

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