BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) – A former tenure-track theater and dance professor claims in court that Lamar University administrators unfairly reprimanded her for refusing, for religious reasons, not to attend a gay performance artist’s show on campus.
Linda Ozmun sued Lamar University and its Theater and Dance Department Chairwoman Judith Sebesta, in Jefferson County Court.
“In the fall of 2010, the Department of Theatre and Dance wanted to bring to campus an ‘artist’ named Tim Miller,” Ozmun says in her complaint. “Mr. Miller is an openly homosexual man who advocates for normalizing sexuality and for homosexual marriage.
“His one-man show is about his homosexual lifestyle using obscene language and sexual gestures. As a result of complaints from the community, his visit along with his performance was canceled.
“In response to the cancellation, several theatre students organized a show called ‘Coming Out Collective.’ It was billed as a celebration of homosexuality.
“Because of her religious beliefs, plaintiff did not attend the show. After the show in December 2010, defendant Judith Sebesta, chair of the department questioned plaintiff as to why she failed to attend the event.
“Plaintiff explained to Mrs. Sebesta that her religious beliefs prevented her from attending the event.”
Ozmun, who was in her fourth year teaching at the university, says that in her annual review, Sebesta “included plaintiff’s failure to attend the event as part of her evaluation, and gave her a grade of ‘unacceptable.'”
Ozmun claims she then “followed university policies and filed a grievance, which was returned and noted ‘unheard.'”
When the university decided to bring Tim Miller back to perform his show, Ozmun says, the college dean “threatened plaintiff with disciplinary action if she failed to attend the performance.”
“In the fall of 2011 semester, the University did bring Tim Miller … to Lamar,” the complaint states. “The purpose was two-fold: Perform his show ‘Glory Box,’ and conduct a workshop and student performance with students of Lamar ‘to help them find their voice.’ Plaintiff contacted defendant and requested a reasonable accommodation to be excused from attending this offensive production. The dean of her college refused this simple accommodation and threatened plaintiff with disciplinary action if she failed to attend the performance.
“Because of her religious beliefs, plaintiff failed to attend the performance and as a result she was disciplined for her religious beliefs.
“Defendants have discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of her religious beliefs in violation of the Texas anti-discrimination laws.”
Ozmun says the university also retaliated against her for filing a discrimination claim against it. Ozmun no longer teaches at Lamar University.
She seeks, lost wages, actual damages, punitive damages and “reinstatement of her position with any adverse evaluations expunged from her record.”
Ozmun is represented by Barry Bennett with Eddins & Bennett and Michael McGown with Benckenstein, Norvell & Nathan, both of Beaumont.