Diversity officer sues university over suspension for signing marriage petition
Washington, D.C., October 10, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Chief Diversity Officer of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. has filed a $16 million lawsuit against the university and two lesbian professors after she was placed on temporary leave last October because she signed a petition to put Maryland’s then-new gay ‘marriage’ law to a popular vote.
While Angela McCaskill was reinstated to her position several months later, she says she was demoted, that the budget for her office was slashed by 32 percent, and that she has been forced “to endure verbal abuse, condescension, and castigation” during staff meetings.
She also alleges that she has suffered “irreparable harm to her good name, professional reputation, and good will” after she was painted by co-workers and the media as “anti-gay.”
She has charged the university and the two professors, who she says spearheaded the public campaign against her, with violating the D.C. Human Rights Act, defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A media spokesperson for the university told LifeSiteNews.com today that because the lawsuit involves an ongoing legal matter, the university is unable to comment.
McCaskill, who lives in Maryland, is the first Chief Diversity Officer at the university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and was the first black deaf woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from the school. She was placed on leave after lesbian professor Dr. Martina Bienvenu exposed the fact that she had signed the petition on a gay rights blog for the hearing impaired.
McCaskill says she signed the petition during a church service, at the urging of her pastor, and that her signature does not necessarily mean that she supports overturning the state’s gay ‘marriage’ law. Instead, she says, it simply meant that she supported the democratic process.
"The university took this action against me because I was among 200,000 people that signed this petition. I exercised my rights," McCaskill said during a news conference last year. "I felt it was important that we as the citizens of Maryland have an opportunity to vote."
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In the lawsuit, McCaskill accuses the university of turning a blind eye to harassment she received from Bienvenu. She describes one confrontation between her and the lesbian professor, during which Bienvenu allegedly shouted at her, “I am really disgusted with you!” She said Bienvenu “belittled” her religious beliefs, “actively expressed intolerance of Christian ideologies as it related to homosexuality,” and repeatedly labeled McCaskill “anti-gay.”
She says Bienvenu warned her to stop attending her church “or suffer dramatic consequences.”
When McCaskill complained about the episode to Gallaudet University President, T. Alan Hurwitz, she says he at first assured her that it was her right to do what she liked in her private life, and confirmed that the university has no policies against its employees becoming involved in politics.
According to McCaskill, Hurwitz also expressed dismay at Bienvenu's behavior and labeled her a "bully."
However, after a private meeting with Bienvenu and her same-sex partner, who is also a professor at the university, Hurwitz subsequently demanded that McCaskill issue a public apology to the whole university community for signing the petition. When she refused, he suspended her.
“Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer,” said Hurwitz in a statement at the time.
Several months later, the university reversed its suspension without comment. “I’m here back at the university and thrilled to be back here,” McCaskill said at the time. “I know there are many challenges ahead for me and I look forward to working with the faculty, staff, and students here as we move forward to make Gallaudet a more inclusive university and the area of higher education that shows respect for different points of view.”
But according to the lawsuit, things have not been the same since McCaskill's reinstatement, with her relationships with fellow faculty and staff significantly harmed, as well as a demotion and a significantly lower budget for her office.
McCaskill also claims she has been treated for “physical anxiety, sleep deprivation, depression, and emotional distress” related to her suspension and the widespread publicity surrounding it.