Judge allows student to sue school for revealing sexuality

Saturday, December 3, 2005

A U.S. federal judge ruled on Nov. 28 that 17-year old Charlene Nguon can sue her high school principal who revealed to her mother that she is lesbian.

The lawsuit, brought in September by a high school senior in California, claims she was unfairly disciplined by the school for kissing her girlfriend. She also alleges that her sexuality caused the school to suspend her when there was no specific policy addressing displays of public affection in the student handbook, and that her privacy rights were violated when the school principal revealed to her parents that she was lesbian.

The school district sought to have the charges dismissed by arguing in part that Nguon was openly gay on campus, and therefore had no right to privacy on the matter.

Judge James V. Selna of the Central District Court of California found that the school district was immune from the plaintiff’s claims in a 13-page finding issued on Monday. However, the individual administrators, the school principal and superintendent, did not qualify for immunity. In his findings he noted that the administrators did not take "action to stop or remedy the alleged harassment and discrimination", and did not enact an "adequate formal or informal policy to ensure that Santiago High is providing a learning environment free from discrimination", which is a requirement of the California Education Code.

In allowing the lawsuit to move forward, Judge Selna found that Nguon had "sufficiently alleged a legally protected privacy interest in information about her sexual orientation."

Nguon is seeking unspecified damages and is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

"This is the first court ruling we’re aware of where a judge has recognized that a student has a right not to have her sexual orientation disclosed to her parents," said Christine Sun, Nguon's lawyer.

Nguon was found in the hallway openly kissing and hugging her girlfriend, actions permitted between heterosexual students at the Santiago High School in Garden Grove, California. The school principal, Ben Wolf, told Nguon's mother about her daughter's sexuality after the student failed to stop the displays of affection between her and her girlfriend. During this time, Nguon was suspended numerous times for ignoring the requests, and was ultimately forced to temporarily change schools.

No trial date is set. The parties are scheduled to return to court on Jan. 23.