Sex, lies and school boards: How rumors led to a wrongful termination claim

Most women know that it’s hard to break through that “glass ceiling” in many occupations, so it’s incredibly stressful — and damaging — to have someone insinuate that a woman got to a position she earned only by trading sexual favors with a man in power.

Now, imagine that rumors were flying around that you had engaged in sexual relationships with several men just to advance your career. That’s exactly the position a school administrator found herself in while working for the San Gabriel Valley school district.

How a rumor spiraled out of control and led to medical problems

There’s no clarity about how the rumors started, but the end result was a lot of stress and anxiety for their target. The female administrator, who holds a master’s degree in public administration, found herself suddenly treated with disrespect and scorn by her colleagues over the untrue rumors.

When she turned to her boss, the district’s superintendent, the woman variously treated the problem as a joke, insinuated that the rumors had to be true and encouraged the victim to actually pursue such a relationship if the rumors weren’t true.

Eventually, the situation got so stressful that the victim took medical leave for depression and anxiety. She was summarily fired a month later.

There’s a lot to unpack in a discrimination case like this

We’ve discussed in earlier posts that sexual rumors and jests can constitute sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Firing someone because they report a problem with sexual harassment or their workplace is prohibited.

So, too, is disability discrimination. If her employer fired her for taking leave due to her condition, that could definitely be a case of wrongful termination.

Cases like this show that workplace discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits often overlap in numerous ways. When you’re in a dispute with your employer or your former employer, it’s wise to take the situation to an experienced advocate before you make another move.

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