A transgender teacher is suing her school district in Maryland, alleging that she suffered discrimination, harassment, and abuse for years before she had to check herself into a psychiatric program and resign.
Jennifer Eller was an English teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools, where she was transferred to new schools twice because of the harassment she faced.
“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked, and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers, and supervisors,” Eller said.
“I woke up each day afraid to go to work because I didn’t know where the next attack would come from, but I already knew full well that the school administrators would do nothing to support me.”
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She started working at Kenmoor Middle School in 2008. In March 2011, she announced that she would be transitioning. That’s when the abuse started.
According to the complaint, an assistant principal told her not to wear skirts and dresses, so she wore pants and blouses instead. A human resources representative said that the letter from her therapist explaining her transition was “garbage.” Students called her a “pedophile.”
So she was transferred to Friendly High School at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, but the abuse only got worse.
Students referred to her with male pronouns and as “Mr.” Some of the students refused to sit in their assigned seats or even give Eller their names.
After a small earthquake hit the area that year, students said God was punishing the school for hiring a “tranny.”
Eller says that students would make comments about her genitals and that students who weren’t in her class would run into her room and call her slurs like “shim” and then run away.
One day after school, a group of students threatened to rape her in the parking lot. When she reported the threat to the principal, he said there was nothing the school could do.
The complaint describes the continuous harassment from students over the next few years, as they would refer to her as “a man,” “a guy in a dress,” “a he/she,” “ugly as shit,” and “a tranny,” while Principal Raynah Adams insisted that “it wasn’t worth it” to discipline the students.
Eller also faced harassment from the faculty, staff, and parents. Associate Principal Paula Robinson allegedly referred to Eller as “sir” and “mister” at a training session in 2015.
It also took the school three years to update her email address to reflect her first name, which meant that she was outed every time she sent an email to parents or other teachers. The school’s website used her deadname for years.
Parents also harassed her, calling her names like “lying, pedophile, tranny” and misgendering her. One parent asked that Eller be fired because she didn’t want a “pervert” teaching her child.
The school did almost nothing to stop the harassment. In 2015, they asked a local police officer to conduct transgender sensitivity training for faculty. Eller was told to go home instead of attend the meeting.
At the training session, another teacher started arguing with the police officer about transgender identity, and the principal ended the session and never rescheduled.
Eller learned about the training session the next day and found a note from the police officer asking her to call her. The officer described the training session and said that she got no support from the administration.
In 2015, she filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, which investigated and found that she was probably the victim of discrimination. The school allegedly retaliated against her by taking away advanced classes, and she eventually requested to be assigned to another school in the district where no one would know her.
She was sent to James Madison Middle School in 2016, but the harassment continued. She was still misgendered there and called names and slurs.
Several months later, Eller took a leave of absence and checked into an outpatient psychiatric program. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of her years in the school district.
In 2017, she resigned.
Eller’s lawsuit alleges that the school violated Maryland’s ban on discrimination based on gender identity, Title VII’s ban on discrimination based on sex, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, and Prince George’s County’s ban on sex-based discrimination. She is also accusing the school district of retaliating against her when she complained.
She is asking for lost wages, job search expenses, emotional damages, and punitive damages. She is also asking for better training for faculty and staff in county schools.
“No one — student or teacher — should go through the hell I was put through at school just for being who they are,” Eller said.
She is being represented by the D.C. firm Arnold & Porter and Lambda Legal.
The school district has not commented on the lawsuit.