Lesbian in same-sex marriage sues Fuller Seminary over expulsion, cites Title IX

Fuller Theological Seminary of Pasadena, California. | Courtesy Fuller Theological Seminary

A woman has filed a lawsuit against Fuller Theological Seminary, accusing it of violating Title IX rules when it expelled her for being in a same-sex marriage.

Joanna Maxon brought the suit against the nondenominational seminary on Thursday. The lawsuit is being filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

“Defendants discriminated against Mrs. Maxon based on her sexual orientation because it expelled Mrs. Maxon for entering into a civil same-sex marriage,” reads the suit, a copy of which was emailed to The Christian Post earlier this week. “Defendants also discriminated against Mrs. Maxon based on her sex and sexual orientation by subjecting her to stricter disciplinary action than Fuller would have subjected a male, heterosexual student.”

Paul Southwick, one of the attorneys for Maxon, told CP that this is the first case he's argued in which the student “filed a Title IX lawsuit because they have been expelled for a same-sex marriage.”

“The other cases I’ve taken on have dealt with gender identity discrimination or related to sexual conduct involving non-married LGBTQ students,” Southwick added. “With the legalization of same-sex marriage, institutions like Fuller will be encountering more and more students who are in same-sex marriages, particularly among graduate student populations.”

A photo of Joanna Maxon, who filed a lawsuit against Fuller Theological Seminary in November 2019 for expelling her due to her being in a same-sex marriage. | Courtesy Paul Southwick

Southwick also argued that if Fuller wants to hold traditional standards for their students, then they should “refrain from accepting public money and should not offer its services to the general public.”

“From a legal perspective, an expulsion based on sexual orientation, including one that is based on ‘homosexual conduct’ or a same-sex relationship, is illegal under Title IX at a place like Fuller because Fuller accepts federal funding,” Southwick asserted.

“From a moral perspective, an expulsion, particularly of someone who is a wife and mother, does not seem kind or ethical.”

CP reached out to Fuller for a response. A spokesperson explained that they could not offer a specific comment on anything related to one of their students.

The Seminary did, however, provide a statement via email noting that they are “a historically multi-denominational seminary” that has “a commitment to academic freedom” and strives “to serve the global Christian church in its various perspectives.”

“We remain committed to these relationships in all their complexities while maintaining community standards and a statement of faith that apply to various areas of beliefs and behavior,” continued the statement.

“Students are informed of and explicitly agree to abide by these standards when applying to the institution.”

According to the lawsuit, Maxon was expelled from Fuller in October 2018 for violating the Seminary’s “Community Standard: Sexual Standard,” which prohibits, among other things, “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct.”

The expulsion came after Maxon had already completed more than three years of classes and had acknowledged her same-sex marriage to students and faculty, according to the lawsuit.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear three cases centered on the question of whether Title IX, the federal law banning discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to sexual orientation and gender identity, neither of which are explicitly mentioned in the law.

The cases were  R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a case in which a Christian-owned funeral home was sued for firing a trans-identified employee who refused to adhere to a dress code for his biological sex, and two consolidated cases, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Facebook: michael.gryboskiFollow Michael Gryboski on Twitter: MichaelGryboskiCP

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