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Attorney looks into legalities of firing a transgender teacher
BEAUMONT-By: Leslie Rangel
A transgender teacher in Lumberton says hundreds of people across Texas are supporting her while she waits to learn whether she can return to the classroom.
The teacher says the district has suspended her. The superintendent says during a Thursday night board meeting, he will make recommendations to the school board about her job status.
Lumberton Intermediate is where Laura Jane Klug was substitute teaching when she first learned her transgender status might be a problem to the district.
She says Thursday a student complained to her parents saying Klug was a distraction.
Klug says she was told her job is on the line.
"Texas is an at-will state meaning an employer can fire an employee for any reason or for no reason, so long as it's not discriminatory," Beaumont attorney David Barlow says.
Barlow says if Klug loses her job, the district could face legal action.
"This is a very complicated issue, the part if they terminate her based on the fact that she was a man and now a woman, I think clearly that's discriminatory because they're firing her because of her gender," Barlow says.
Parents we've spoken with say their major concern is not Klug's sexual orientation, but the distraction they tell us she's causing 5th graders.
The question then becomes, could the district fire her for becoming a distraction?
"If the district simply said no, she will go on the list and we will use her as we need her and then they just never called her again, they would have to prove that they purposely did not call her because of her gender, because she was female and even though that may be what happened it would be very difficult," Barlow said.
We checked in the Lumberton ISD handbook and inside a policy clearly states they will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for things including race, color, religion, sex or even genetic information.
But will that hold up in court?
"If someone was terminated based on that, I'm not sure that they would really have a cause of action because that's Lumberton's policy and they could change their policy daily if they want to," Barlow said.
Barlow says if a district is to face legal action in such a case, it's likely to come in federal court.
Complicated issues that go beyond Jane Klug.
"We fire this person because she's a woman she wasn't born a woman but she's a woman now, we fired her based on her sex, well what happened when the next person who was born a woman and is still a woman and they fire her based on her sex or a man who was born man and is still a man, it's a slippery slope," Barlow said.
One Barlow says may begin in the school house, but will likely play out in a courthouse.
When we asked the superintendent if he thought the teacher should keep her job he told us as long as the district and employee comply with the law, and she's doing her job without becoming a disruption or distraction.