Demotion Was All Political, Deaf Woman Says
WASHINGTON (CN) - Lies that she had signed an "anti-gay" petition got the chief diversity officer of a school for the deaf suspended, demoted and publicly humiliated, she claims in Federal Court.
Angela McCaskill sued Gallaudet University, her co-worker Martina Bienvenu and Bienvenu's partner, Kendra Smith, for defamation and discrimination.
A resident of Upper Marlboro, Md., McCaskill says she signed the petition last year to call a referendum on the marriage equality bill Gov. Martin O'Malley had signed into law.
Question 6, as the referendum was known, did appear on the ballot, and voters affirmed gay marriage by a wide margin on Election Night.
About a month before voters went to the polls, however, the "openly gay" Bienvenu allegedly confronted McCaskill "in a very hostile manner" about the issue.
McCaskill says she admitted to signing the petition at church because she wanted "to have the same-sex marriage issue vetted through public discourse so that Maryland voters could become more understanding, informed, and enlightened about the issue once they entered the polls."
Despite McCaskill's insistence that the petition is not "anti-gay," Bienvenu allegedly "responded in a very animated manner with her sign-voice elevated, exclaiming: 'I am really disgusted with you!'"
McCaskill, who is both black and deaf, says Bienvenu then criticized Christian beliefs on homosexuality - particularly among black churches - and warned her to "discontinue her religious services at her church or suffer dramatic consequences," according to the complaint.
Fearing for her safety, McCaskill claims she informed her supervisors of the dispute, and then relayed the details to the president and provost of the school for the deaf.
According to the complaint, the school failed to investigate McCaskill's discrimination claim against Bienvenu and her partner, whom she claims penned an email to university officials with Bienvenu about McCaskill's endorsement of Proposition 6.
Later that week, the university provost allegedly told McCaskill to "publicly apologize in writing to the entire University community for exercising her right to participate in a Maryland legislative initiative so the matter would be over."
When McCaskill refused to apologize, the school suspended her, according to the complaint.
Meanwhile Bienvenu and Smith allegedly defamed McCaskill on PlanetDeafQueer.com as being "anti-gay."
McCaskill says that the university publically announced her suspension, and that the school demoted her upon return from deputy to the president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion to "merely chief diversity officer."
McCaskill says the ordeal has caused her public embarrassment and cost the school's diversity department $53,000 in budget funds.
"That plaintiff was further forced to endure, verbal abuse, condescension, and castigation for signing Maryland's same-sex marriage legislative initiative during Faculty Senate meetings while President Hurwitz, nonchalantly looked on, and did nothing to restore order, dignity and respect to plaintiff or her position as chief diversity officer," the complaint states.
McCaskill wants $16 million in damages for human rights violations, defamation, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress.
She is represented by J. Wyndal Gordon in Baltimore.