Posted On: May 19, 2009 by Peter M. LaSorsa

California School Settles Sexual Orientation Discrimination Claims By Lesbian Student for $25,000

A lesbian student's complaint that teachers harassed her over her sexual orientation has led to a California school agreeing to pay the student $25,000 and revamp the schools anti-discrimination policies. The student, Rochelle Hamilton, now 16, was a sophomore at Jesse Bethel High School in the fall of 2007, when teachers allegedly verbally harassed her and forced her to attend a counseling session for gay students. Gill said the counselor tried to discourage Hamilton and other students in the session from being gay. Hamilton's standard dress was stereotypically male, with baggy jeans. This is a form of school sexual harassment.

The alleged harassment included a staff member telling Hamilton she was "ungodly" and "going to hell" as she embraced her then-girlfriend. The alleged comments transformed the "social butterfly" into a teenager on the verge of suicide, according Hamilton's mother. Hamilton, who came out as a lesbian when she was 13, said Monday she became depressed because of daily negative comments from teachers and staff about her sexual orientation and her appearance. Hamilton complained to school officials but nothing was done to stop the harassment. Hamilton's grades suffered and her social life suffered as a result of the harassment.

According to a letter dated Jan. 17, 2008, from the ACLU to Bull, staff members made comments to the girl such as, "Remember, you're a girl, not a boy," and, "You can get HIV/AIDS from being gay and messing with females."

THe United States Supreme Court in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Serv., Inc. (1987) held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment (i.e. male-male, or female-female) can be the basis for a valid sexual harassment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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