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School district pays $95K to teacher suspended for not using trans student's 'preferred' trans name

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Unsplash/Jeffrey Hamilton

A Kansas public school teacher has reached a $95,000 settlement with her employer after the school district suspended her for calling a trans-identified student by the student's legal name instead of their chosen name after self-identifying as a different gender.

The religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom announced Wednesday that officials at the USD 475 Geary County school district and Fort Riley Middle School have agreed to pay middle school math teacher Pamela Ricard $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees after reprimanding and suspending her for three days with pay for declining to call a trans-identified student by their preferred name. At the time of her suspension, no official school district policy existed requiring teachers to do so.

In response, the principal of Fort Riley Middle School sent an email to faculty members stating, “When we have a student that requests to go by a preferred name that is different than their given name, our district honors that request. Once you are aware of a preferred name, use that name for the student.”

Shortly after her April 2021 suspension, the school district implemented a policy forbidding district officials from informing parents that their children were identifying as the opposite sex at school “unless the student requests the administration or counselor to do so.” Several other school districts have implemented similar policies, including Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, the largest district in the state.

Earlier this year, Ricard filed a lawsuit against the school district and its top officials in federal court, maintaining that requiring her to address students by a name that matches their chosen gender identity rather than their legal name and ignore biological facts contradicted her sincerely held religious beliefs “consistent with the traditional Christian and biblical understanding of the human person and biological sex.”

The lawsuit contended that her suspension over her views on gender identity violated her right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, who also serves as the director of the organization’s Center for Academic Freedom, cheered the development in a statement. “No school district should ever force teachers to willfully deceive parents or engage in any speech that violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” he said.

“We’re pleased to settle this case favorably on behalf of Pam, and we hope that it will encourage school districts across the country to support the constitutionally protected freedom of teachers to teach and communicate honestly with both children and parents,” Langhofer said.

Joshua Ney, one of more than 4,400 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, added that this case is an example of why “schools shouldn’t lie to parents and teachers don’t forfeit their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.”

Ney added: “The Geary County School District unsuccessfully tried to convince a federal court that a teacher should completely avoid using a child’s name during a parent-teacher conference in order to hide new names and genders being used by the school for the child in a classroom. Absurdity and deception have their limits, especially in federal court. I’m glad the case clarifies the financial stakes for school boards if they attempt to force teachers to lie to parents about their students.”

The lawsuit followed Ricard’s unsuccessful request to secure a “religious accommodation regarding any school employee that requires a teacher or school employee to actively state or otherwise use a student’s or any other person’s preferred pronouns or other gendered language when different from the student’s or person’s biological sex.”

Along with paying Ricard nearly $100,000, the school district agreed to revoke the policy requiring school officials to keep secret students’ chosen gender identity from their parents unless they grant them permission to do otherwise and issued a statement affirming that Ricard was “in good standing without any disciplinary actions against her at the time of her retirement in May.”

As a result of the settlement, ADF filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Wednesday.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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