Thursday, June 26, 2008

Employee Fired for Being Gay, and Then Silenced: Sordid Story

And finally today, a fascinating story from Dallas, which rips the veil away to expose some of the mechanisms by which the rich and powerful in our society try to keep gay human beings out of positions of leadership, and/or to silence those human beings when they unjustly expel them from leadership.

June 24th’s Dallas Morning News ran a story by Theodore Kim entitled “Months After Controversy, Gay Collin County Teen Court Coordinator to Leave Job” (see Kim reports that after Dallas Voice mentioned the sexual orientation of Justin Nichols, coordinator of the Teen Court of Collin County, in a March article, the County Commissioners Court began to move against Mr. Nichols.

Because he is gay.

On 10 June, the commissioners met and voted to offer a severance agreement to Mr. Nichols. The money offered to him will, of course, come from public funds. Mr. Nichols is unable to speak of the particulars of the agreement, because it includes a confidentiality clause.

The article notes that “Mr. Nichols oversees about 200 volunteers in the court, a program where teen jurors adjudicate cases involving young people accused of minor crimes. He took the position in August 2006 and made an annual salary of $35,500, not including benefits.”

There have apparently been no allegations whatsoever that Mr. Nichols did not perform the duties of this important position well—although he is, of course, gay. And, unfortunately, that appears to matter in this case.

Unfortunately as well, as Kim’s article notes, “Federal, state and county laws do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Twenty states and some municipalities, including the city of Dallas, do forbid such discrimination.” (The Teen Court is in Plano, and not Dallas.)

I find blog commentary about this case fascinating. It suggests to me that people—“ordinary” citizens—are beginning to get it, regarding this kind of discrimination and injustice.

Blog comments about the case indicate that American citizens are recognizing the following:

1. People have a right to a job—to use their talents and participate in the social life of the community by working—regardless of their sexual orientation.

2. Sexual orientation is immaterial, when it comes to a person’s ability to do a good job.

3. People have a right to be protected from unjust termination solely because they are gay.

4. People have a right to have job evaluations and to be kept on at their workplace or terminated on the basis of such evaluations, not at the whim of an employer, simply because they are gay.

5. One can still be terminated in many areas of the nation solely because he or she is gay. In many areas of the nation, no law requires employers to give any reason for the termination—or permits employers to terminate the employee simply because he/she is gay.

6. When this happens, the gay person who is terminated has few legal options, in such areas. If there is no law giving the person protection from such discrimination, juries in right-to-work states are unlikely to sympathize with someone claiming discrimination, even when such discrimination is patent.

7. In such cases, it is understandable that some people who have few resources would accept a severance agreement, even when it calls for their silence about what has happened.

8. Such silence clauses are, in their own way, often a tacit admission of guilt on the part of the institution using them: if the institution’s behavior is defensible, noble, and moral, it should not fear having its actions reviewed in public.

9. Communities in which such severance pay-offs occur are themselves harmed by the pay-off. In this case, tax-payer funds are being used to pay and silence Mr. Justin. In other institutions in which such pay-offs and silencing tactics are used, funds that might better serve the needs of the institution itself (and its other employees) are diverted to the cover-up of unscrupulous actions.

10. We will someday move beyond such unjust behavior. But we won’t do so as long as institutions are permitted to treat gay human beings so unjustly and to try to silence them regarding the unjust treatment doled out to them. We will move forward when the communities in which such stories happen demand that leaders who behave this way be accountable and transparent, and held to best-of-practice ethical standards for their institution.

The following blog comments, which illustrate points above, are from a blog on the Dallas paper website discussing the case of Mr. Nichols (see
[F]urther evidence of why there needs to be a law prohibiting anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. Damn right he took the pay off: It is legal in Texas and in the United States to fire someone for being gay. A suit claiming to the contrary would have been quickly dismissed, despite the claimed presence of liberal activist judges.
If you are a Collin County taxpayer, you too should outraged that your elected county officials can meet in secret to make secret deals spending God only knows how much of your hard earned dollars just because they are homophobic. You can also rest assured that this had to be a substantial amount of money to keep it out of court. Who's next? Hispanic employees? Black employees? Female employees?
And this comment is on Pam’s House Blend blog at (
I think they scared him into the settlement agreement. They could have hinted around about possible allegations that he had acted inappropriately with the teens in the court (e.g. made sexual moves on one or more) and dragged the whole thing into a long trial. Even if he were found innocent, his reputation is trashed. It's one possibility, anyway. Nothing is below them.
It should be noted that the preceding story refers to a secular institution—to county government. One would certainly not expect any church institution to engage in this kind of behavior—firing employees without evaluations solely because they are gay, paying them off with non-disclosure clauses, blackening their reputation and fabricating lies about the reason for their dismissal, and then seeking to use legal power to threaten them if they sought to defend themselves against such gross injustice.

Churches profess to stand for human rights and moral behavior, after all—as do church-based institutions. They are in the business of setting higher ethical standards and higher standards of social justice for society as a whole.

Aren't they?


colkoch said...

I have a couple of thoughts about this story. The first is that until Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed in the military, situations like this one, in another branch of government, have all the justification they need to act in the same way.

My other thought is that if this kind of blatant harassment keeps up, it won't be long until any single person is subjected to the same kind of harassment. Not married- must be gay and fair game.

A lot of female athletes can tell you that one of the issues they must deal with is the unstated supposition they are gay, and the harrassment they recieve for this stereotypical thinking.

Brad C. said...


There are a couple of additional wrinkles, reported by Box Turtle Bulletin, to this story that further illustrate the homophobia, irrationality, and inanity of those that were so quick to give Nichols the bum's rush.

His "superiors" were in such a hurry to to remove him from his position while avoiding a potentially precedent-setting lawsuit, the severance settlement was not properly proofread. As such, whereas it does hold Mr. Nichols to a nondisclosure agreement, his lawyer was not so encumbered by the agreement and spilled the details of the settlement. Also, the commissioners misplaced a decimal point on his severance agreement, entitling Mr. Nichols to 26.5 MILLION dollars rather than the $26,500 he was initially offered.

You read that right. His bosses were in such a homophobic panic to rush him out the door, they didn't even take the time to read the thing twice. I, for one, hope he collects every penny. I can't think of any better metaphor to teach a community that they literally can not afford such discrimination.

William D. Lindsey said...

Colleen, I appreciate the feedback. I suspect you're right. As long as blatant discrimination is enshrined right in the military (which is to say, in our federal government), it's hard to challenge at "lower" levels.

And I've actually seen exactly the process you're describing in which unmarried people are suspect when they're interviewed by church-affiliated schools. I know of at least one case at the Catholic college in NC that gave me a one-year terminal contract, with no reason.

This happened after I left there. In an interview, a single man was asked if he were married. When he said no, the faculty member interviewing him then asked if he were gay.

I myself was asked the marriage question by the same school when I was interviewed. The academic v-p looked to see if I had a wedding band as he asked it.

William D. Lindsey said...

BC, I appreciate your feedback, too, as always. I had read a little piece on the extra zero in the severance offer, but without much explanation of what happened.

God does sometimes have a sense of humor. It would be nice to see those perpetrating this injustice forced to pay through the nose.

The sad part of the story is that entire institutions are affected by the injustice, when it has to be covered up by pay-offs. I have long been furious, as a Catholic, that donations I once gave to the church are used to pay off families whose children are abused.

If I were working or teaching in a college (I use this example since my background is in education) that pays off people to prevent discrimination lawsuits, I'd also be hopping mad that the school is wasting money for such foolishness. I'd be especially angry if the school didn't offer routine raises to employees, and also if it proclaimed ethical standards that prevent such unjust behavior.

colkoch said...

Wow, that's not one decimal point, that's three decimal points. That's a cosmic number.

God does have a sense of humor and I bet he's chuckling over this one.