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Inland Empire school district settles wrongful termination lawsuit wth teacher allegedly fired for her religious beliefs

Inland Empire teacher fired over religious beliefs reaches settlement with school district
Inland Empire teacher fired over religious beliefs reaches settlement with school district 02:52

An Inland Empire school district has reached a settlement in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a teacher who says she was fired for not following their policies regarding gender identity due to her religious beliefs. 

Jessica Tapia, a former physical education teacher with the Jurupa Unified School District, says that she reached the $360,000 settlement more than a year after she was fired. 

She says that the entire ordeal began when she posted videos online that were openly critical of major department stores and their marketing of LGBTQ clothing, specifically directed towards young children. Those videos were then reported to the district. 

Tapia then says that she was immediately pulled out of class, but eventually allowed to return to work if she would follow a specific set of directives, which she says violated her Christian values. 

"From there on out, I needed to refer to students by their preferred pronoun, whatever gender they are saying they would like to be," Tapia said. "And then, also withhold that from their parents for the student's privacy and safety."

She says that no student actually asked her to change their pronoun, and that she was fired for saying she would theoretically handle the situation differently. 

The school district released a statement, which read in part:

"This settlement is not a win for Ms. Tapia, but is in compromise of a disputed claim ... The settlement certainly does not state or prove any illegal action or discrimination by the District."

Officials say that the district decided to settle the case along with its self insurance authority, and in the best interest of the students — regardless of their protected class.

Julianne Fleischer, the attorney with nonprofit law firm Advocates for Faith and Freedom,who represented Tapia, says that while student's civil rights should be protected, teachers shouldn't have to sacrifice their careers to preserve their religious convictions.

"Tittle VII specifically requires an employer to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and in Jessica's case, that absolutely could have happened," Fleischer said, noting that reasonable accommodation could have been something as simple as calling students by their last names instead of by their preferred pronouns. 

"Our organization has a lot of respect for the transgender community and we recognize that they do have rights, but religious rights are not second class to any other right," Fleischer said. 

Tapia is hopeful that her story will inspire other educators to defend their rights. 

"I feel like that should send a loud and clear message to teachers who stand with me," she said. "I've had hundreds, if not thousands, voice that to me."

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