T Nation

Legal Advice: School Breaches Contract


#1

Looking to get some ideas, advice from any lawyers who might be on here...

Last year I taught at a private high school (PE, Health, Computers) and had a really great year - positive all around - staff, parents, students.

This summer we agreed on terms for this school year (payment, hours etc) as a contract worker. Then, a few weeks before the semester started the principal found out that I am gay. He said I would not be returning for this reason. I tried extensively to negotiate etc with no progress.

I understand that in GA there is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation (ENDA) however how does this affect legal contracts? I am not an employee but a contract worker. Can one break a contract simply by claiming the other party is gay?

I would like to sue them in small claims court (GA small claims handles up to $15,000). If nothing else I plan to attract attention to the issue and to them.

Do I have any legal recourse? Any legal grounds to stand on?
Thanks so much to anyone who might have some ideas..


#2

I REALLY think a gay rights activist type group would be moree than happy to help you on this. Especially if one of your goals is to draw attention to the issue. Of course I can't think of one but they must exist.


#3

From my understanding, GA is not an "at will" employment State. The "at will" doctrine generally means an employer can generally discharge you for no cause whatsoever. I do not believe GA recognizes the "at will" doctrine. So, that, in addition to any signed contract (you have an executed contract?) probably provides you a good deal of protection. I would at least consult an EMPLOYMENT LAW LAWYER before you proceed and I'd do it ASAP. I'm also assuming your compensation would have been greater than 15k (don't forget any benefits too, b/c they count toward damages), in addition to whatever damages may be recoverable so I'd definitely get the small claims court thing out of your mind.

If you've been wronged, don't half-ass it and try to play lawyer yourself. And save the flag waving rabble rousing for after you've consulted a lawyer. Do you want what is just, or do you want to raise a stink? Raising a stink may not get you justice, it might just make you feel better. Win the war. If you can't win the war, then by all means go fight your battle.


#4

Like TBG touched on, at will states mean they can fire at will...but you have a contract. That takes you out of at will regardless of the state's policies. Contact ACLU etc. The money might not be big in the grand scheme of things, but if you can prove you were fired for gay and nothing else (and you didn't contract to not be gay, assuming that's even hypothetically enforceable), you will probably receive some sort of satisfaction in a settlement, even if you don't go to litigation. No one wants to be called "gay unfriendly" right now.

Go to real people, not internet folks.


#5

Just curious, Religious private school, or secular?


#6


From the GA Department of Labor website, it seems that you're correct since I have a contract:
"Unless you have a contract with your employer for a specified length of service, either you or your employer may terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, for any reason or no reason at all, with the exception of illegal discrimination. This is frequently called "Employment-at-Will.""

The reason I thought small claims might be appropriate is because the total contract was for 12,000. I was only a part-time teacher there (I have another job).
I'd like to sue for breach of contract, and then whether I win or lose I will raise a stink.


#7

I actually have emails from the principal etc clearly stating that he will not have a homosexual teaching in his school, etc. The string of emails makes very clear that this was the only reason.


#8

You guessed it.. religious :slight_smile:


#9

First y'all wanna get married and now you wanna teach our kids?


#10

Your damages may not be limited to the amount of your salary. You may be entitled to attorney fees for breach of contract, loss of any benefits and other damages. Go see an employment lawyer.


#11

Thanks TBG. I'll see if I can get a consultation with an employment lawyer. If the employment lawyer thinks I have a case, I think I will go that route.

The attraction of small claims court was that if I lose, I have only lost $76 of legal fees, and if I win those fees are included in the claim. Since I would represent myself, I would not have to afford lawyer's fees.


#12

Out of further curiousity, why on Earth would you want to teach at a religious school if you were gay?

Be like me teaching at a Christian school; I don't go where I am (presumably) not welcome.


#13

There are a lot of variables going on: is it "at will" or a true "term" contract?

Further, as a religious school, there is probably an implied (or explicit) code of conduct that would be part of your contract. Just a hunch, but I bet being gay would violate said code of conduct.

That said, your question is way too fact specific to answer over the interwebs.


#14

wouldn't that potentially be uneforceable as against public policy or something similar?


#15

Two reasons:
First, it's a job. I'm a graduate student and I was counting on it. Enough said.
Second, I taught there last year and it was a very positive experience. I got along very well with the staff and students, and changed their Phys Ed programs from being a complete joke, to educating and encouraging the students about free weight training, nutrition, etc. So I enjoyed it and felt I was making a real difference (several students told me so).


#16

I'm not a lawyer and any opinion I post is for discussion only, as I find this interesting. If I'm way off base, somebody please let me know, but remember I am not even trying to give advice.

With all that said...

I would think since you are a contractor the employment at will does not affect you at all. You are technically self-employed so you would be unable to bring any grievance against the school as your employer. In other words, you have no employee-employer relationship with them whatsoever.

Having said that you do have a valid contract with them. The only question that would need to be answered then is which party is in breach of the contract. What does your contract say? Did you agree on any sort of code of conduct? It seems to me if you read the contract you should have your answer.


#17

Not in Georgia. In most states, sexual orientation is not a "protected class" (e.g., race, religion, sex, national origin).

Plus religious schools and the like are generally exempt from those laws under First Amendment (freedom of religion and association) grounds.


#18

I suppose. But the primary part of what the parents are paying for is a religious environment. You obviously think their religion is nonsense (which is your right). But the parents wouldn't want their children around someone who rejects the tenants of their religion --- otherwise they'd go to public school.

FWIW, I attended a yeshiva in Israel where there was a homosexual teacher who was an Hasdic Orthodox Jewish man. He was permitted to teach, provided : (1) he signed an agreement (and abided by it) that he would remain completley celebate while teaching and (2) that he agreed and accepted the religious instruction that homosexual sodomy is a sin and wrongful behavior and would not argue otherwise.

As far as I knew, he abided by it.

Perhaps that could work as a compromise. My understanding of Christianity is limited, but I understand they do not object to a person having homosexual urgings, they merely object to the performance of the same. ("Love the sinner; hate the sin.")

I understand that might be a difficult feat for you, but maybe not.


#19

The ACLU would be all over this.


#20

Maybe, maybe not. If their actions are legal and shielded by law, the ACLU can't do much about it. They're too busy fighting the good fight when they have a leg to stand on. The fact that this is a religious school and may have some legal protection, changes things dramatically.

He should still take the 1/2 hour to sit down with an employment lawyer.

OP let us know what your lawyer says.

Personally, if it's a small, private religious school, I think they should have the right to make these decisions whether I agree with them or not. I'm not big on organized religion so I can't really get worked up about that angle, but I do believe they should have the right to make these choices if they are private and do not accept public funds. It's their money, it's private and I think they should get to do whatever they please, how they please, no matter how repugnant we may or may not find it.