Gordon College punishes pro-LGBT professor after public ‘boycott’ reference
A tenured philosophy professor with outspoken views on LGBT issues is suing her Christian college for preventing her from reaching “full professor” status and treating her differently than men.
Lauren Barthold alleges that Gordon College, considered liberal among evangelical schools, illegally retaliated against her under Massachusetts law after she spoke publicly about the school’s “unlawful” hiring practices. The suit was filed April 28 in Massachusetts Superior Court.
The dispute grows out of a two-year-old controversy at the school. President D. Michael Lindsay and other religious nonprofit leaders signed a letter asking the Obama administration for an exemption from new antidiscrimination rules on hiring and sexual orientation.
As a result Gordon’s accreditation was put at risk, a local school district stopped letting Gordon students volunteer in its schools, and the college collected feedback from the community on how it could better serve LGBT students without affirming homosexual practices.
‘Safe-space dialogue’ under false pretenses
Barthold claims the school threatened to fire her “because she wrote a letter to a newspaper and was quoted in a newspaper article as a critic of [Lindsay’s] action,” saying it discriminated against LGBT job applicants, according to a statement from the ACLU, which is representing Barthold.
— ACLU Massachusetts (@ACLU_Mass) May 12, 2016
The professor’s letter to the Salem News rips into Gordon for its LGBT policy, saying she was “embarrassed to admit” to gay friends she worked at the college and that she considered quitting in protest “many, many times.”
In a passage that apparently alarmed Gordon’s administration, Barthold asked “those outside the Gordon community” to “reflect on whether … any ties you currently have with Gordon may be either severed or strengthened.” She wrote that while she was not asking people to “boycott the college,” she could see the validity of “economic sanctions (so to speak)” against Gordon.
The lawsuit alleges that after Barthold’s letter was published, Lindsay and Provost Janel Curry sent her an invitation under false pretenses to have a “safe-space dialogue” with them. Lindsay allegedly “raised his voice” at Barthold and urged her to “rethink her relationship” with the school at that meeting.
Barthold further claims that the administration pressured her to resign after she was quoted in a Boston Globe story on faculty disagreement with Gordon’s public stance on LGBT hiring. The board of trustees accused her of “publicizing internal differences” and trying to bring outside pressure on Gordon to change its policy, according to the suit.
At that point Barthold’s counsel told the school its conduct toward her violated a state law against “threats, intimidation or coercion” to stifle a resident’s free speech and association as guaranteed by the state constitution. The counsel suggested that the state attorney general could sue Gordon officials “in the name of the commonwealth.”
No male professor was disciplined like her
Though Gordon pulled back its firing threat, it disciplined Barthold for her expressed views “in several ways,” the suit claims. It revoked her scheduled autumn 2015 eligibility for the full-professor promotion, despite her previous promotion for her teaching abilities, and dropped her as director of Gordon’s gender studies minor.
The suit says Gordon unlawfully discriminated against Barthold as a woman under state law, because male professors who made similar public complaints about Gordon’s LGBT policy “were not disciplined” like she was.
Barthold is asking for compensatory and punitive damages against Gordon for lost wages and “emotional distress,” and an injunction against the school’s discipline of her.
A spokesman for the ACLU of Massachusetts declined to answer College Fix questions about how Gordon’s status as a private institution affected Barthold’s claims, saying the lawsuit has “all the information you need.”
Gordon’s human resources office did not respond to a Fix request to explain its own protections for employees, but in an undated “Non-Discrimination Policy,” the college says it “prohibits unlawful discrimination in employment.”
Its employment practices, “including hiring, promotion, compensation, and termination, will not be influenced or affected by an applicant’s or employee’s race, color, gender, national origin, age, handicap or physical disability, veteran or military status or any other characteristic protected by law,” the policy reads. It does not explicitly mention sexual orientation. (Barthold claims she was also targeted for her “association with” LGBT people.)
Your own peers voted to discipline you
The college blasted the ACLU press release in a statement linked on its homepage, saying its claims “distort the true nature of Gordon as a Christian college” that asks community members to “abide by its statement of Life and Conduct.”
The ACLU’s portrayal of Barthold’s job as unrelated to religious duties also “misrepresented the role of faculty,” who must integrate “faith and learning” and “be fully prepared in all facets of their tasks as Christian teachers and advisors,” Gordon said.
Barthold was disciplined because she publicly “identified herself as a Gordon employee and expressed her strong disagreement with the College in a harmful way at a time when Gordon was under media scrutiny regarding issues related to sexuality,” the statement continued.
It was Gordon’s faculty senate that “determined and voted to recommend” disciplinary action, a process that is “rarely employed but which has precedent.”
Board of Trustees Chairman Herman Smith said in a separate statement that Barthold was disciplined “because she publicly called for a boycott of the school and severing of ties” – a threat to Gordon students, faculty and staff.
A letter signed by 200 Gordon students supports Barthold’s lawsuit, the Salem News reported. The letter countered Gordon’s characterization of the dispute, saying Barthold did not call for a boycott and that Gordon only invited one gay student to serve on an LGBTQ discussion group the prior academic year.
The school drew public support from an alumnus who teaches law at Faulkner University.
Adam MacLeod wrote in NewBostonPost that a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg validated Gordon’s right “to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated,” in this case its “life and conduct statement.”
IMAGES: thisisbossi/Flickr, David Bruce/Flickr, Gordon College homepage