McCaskill’s lawsuit tossed
May 6th, 2014
Before there was controversy around Mozilla’s appointment of Brendan Eich to the position of CEO, there was Angela McCaskill. She too found controversy with her name attached to a public campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights, Maryland’s Question 6.
In some ways the situations were similar.
Like Eich, McCaskill held a high-level position at a well-known organization. She too refused to specifically state her personal views. And both had associates and underlings who were offended by their action.
But there were also differences.
McCaskill’s position as Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet, a Washington, D.C. university for deaf and hard of hearing students, required that she work as an advocate for gay students. She did not give to the campaign – that we know of – but publicly signed a petition to bring the right to marry to a vote after a fiery sermon from her pastor denouncing same-sex marriage. And while Eich resigned, McCaskell was put on a paid suspension before being eventually reinstated (McCaskell’s attorney insists that she was demoted and that she has less access to the Dean.)
There was also one more significant difference. The organizers of the campaign for legal same-sex marriage, along with the Governor and other supporters, called for Gallaudet to reinstate McCaskill and insisted that her support of the vote was a free speech issue.
We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately,” Levin said in his statement. “Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6, which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law.”
Here at Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway denounced the school’s action and hoped for resolution.
Gallaudet students and faculty have a right to ask McCaskill some very hard questions. McCaskill owes them, as their Diversity Officer, honest answers and probably an apology, depending on her explanations. What she did deserves scrutiny. But an undeniable and fundamental feature of anything resembling diversity, it seems to me, must include dialogue and conversation, especially when these situations arise in an academic setting and especially in McCaskill’s case where she has established a strong track record in supporting the campus’s LGBT population. Hurwitz’s rash action has clumsily blocked all of that.
I agreed in principle with Jim that McCaskill had a right to her political opinions, but felt that the school may have been judicious in creating a cooling off period.
I think it is in the best interest of Gallaudet – and gay students, and Dr. McCaskill – that she relinquish diversity duties until after the election and things cool off and that her path forward be determined at that time. If marriage equality passes she will have an excellent pathway to putting this behind her. If not, it may be more difficult to regain the trust of gay students who will feel that society has chosen yet another realm in which to reject, deny, and alienate them and may be less ready to trust someone who played a part in making that happen.
McCaskill certainly didn’t contribute to any cooling off. She held a press conference denouncing her employer as being intolerant and allowed her story to be used as an attack ad on supporters of equality (her attorney said she’d rather the ad not run but she did not denounce it or criticize those who ran it).
As time went on and McCaskill became ever more the victim (never, to my knowledge, acknowledging that the supporters of same-sex marriage had come to her defense), I became concerned whether she had either the capacity or the will to fulfill her tasks as advocate for gay students.
And, after her reinstatement in January 2013, it seems that she made little to no effort to address the concerns of gay students at Gallaudet.
In March she slipped into the back of an LGBT event at the school, leaving students feeling dismayed and awkward. (deafqueer)
“I don’t understand why she came,” one Gallaudet student told Planet DeafQueer. “There has been no apology and no dialogue. Does she think we’re just going to forget and move on?”
CNAAnother student told Planet DeafQueer that he was pissed off. “She shouldn’t have been there,” he said. “Not until she makes amends. I felt like she was invading my space.”
She followed the meeting with a letter to the school in which she phrased the situation thusly:
In late October, I exercised my right to sign a petition which resulted in a wide range of feelings, concerns, and reactions across campus.
The letter did not speak at all about or to the gay Gallaudet students, causing students to express more dismay.
I don’t know much of her efforts since that time of reconciliation. None have been reported. I hope that either Dr. McCaskill steps up to this task or that alternate support has been established for them in the department, as reasons remain to question her devotion to their advocacy.
Though she was reinstated to her position, McCaskill sued the school for a gamut of discrimination claims, including discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status and political affiliation. She also sued for defamation and negligent hiring.
In addition, she sued the coworker who discovered her name on the petition, and the coworker’s partner, saying that they criticized her religion, defamed her as “anti-gay” and that consequently the school “intentionally or negligently caused her emotional distress.”
Now the judge has tossed out McCaskill’s case. Well, to the extent she made one. (Courthouse News)
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg dismissed McCaskill’s complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim.
“It is difficult to make out precisely what protected activity plaintiff thinks prompted her suspension and demotion,” the April 14 ruling states. “In her complaint, she alleges that defendant violated the [District of Columbia Human Rights Act] by retaliating against her ‘on account of her exercising or enjoying her right to be free from unlawful discrimination.’ At first, one might think plaintiff is claiming that she faced retaliation for complaining that she had been discriminated against. In the next paragraph of her complaint, however, McCaskill alleges that the ‘protected activity’ in which she was engaged was ‘signing [the] legislative initiative’ and ‘expressing herself as a married, heterosexual, African-American, Christian woman/voter, who, through prayer and worship, searched for a means to enlighten Maryland voters on the issue of same-sex marriage in such a way to foster discourse, tolerance, and respect for the democratic process.’”
The judge concluded: “This, quite simply, is not the sort of ‘protected activity’ contemplated by the statute.”
Boasberg also dismissed McCaskill’s claim of a hostile work environment, stating that McCaskill – who said in her complaint that Bienvenu threatened her “with her sign-voice elevated” – “offered no facts to support the contention that such alleged mistreatment was due to her membership in any protected class.”
Her attorney has said that he may refile.