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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
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Gallaudet College Officer Loses Bias Claim

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge dismissed discrimination claims filed by the chief diversity officer of Gallaudet University, who was demoted after she signed an anti-gay marriage petition.

Angela McCaskill sued the college for the deaf, her co-worker Martina Bienvenu and Bienvenu's partner, Kendra Smith, alleging defamation and discrimination.

McCaskill, who is black and deaf, says she signed a petition to place Maryland's Proposition 6 - a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage - on the ballot in 2012, "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."

News of the petition spread across campus, sparking ire from Bienvenu and her partner, and ultimately getting McCaskill demoted from her position as deputy to the president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion to "merely chief diversity officer."

McCaskill's claims against the couple and the school included 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.

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."

Maryland voters approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act, legalizing same-sex marriage. The law took effect Jan. 1, 2013.

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