A woman who married another woman after she was accepted to a California theological college was expelled, and now she’s suing for alleged discrimination.
Plaintiff Joanna Maxon of Fort Worth, Texas said she was kicked out of Fuller Theological Seminary last year where she was studying for a master of arts in theology.
“I was approaching the end and looking forward to graduation and all that stuff,” the 53-year-old said. “To have that taken away unexpectedly — I was a really good student — I was devastated by it.”
At the time she was expelled, she was in the middle of taking two classes and need an additional three to complete her degree.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday, alleges violation of federal and state civil rights laws as well as U.S. Department of Education Title IX rules, which generally prohibits outlaw gender identity discrimination at institutions that accept federal aid. Maxon was using federally backed student loans to finance her education.
The school is based in Pasadena, California but offers classes online and at a Texas satellite campus. News of the lawsuit was reported by the Los Angeles Times Thursday.
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Some religious institutions have requested and received exemptions to Title IX nondiscrimination rules, but Fuller is not one of them, the plaintiff’s attorney, Paul Southwick, said.
He believes the institution is not eligible for such an exemption because a qualification is that a school must essentially be run by a church, which does not appear to be the case with Fuller.
The college said it couldn’t comment on the “specifics” of the case, but emailed this statement:
“As a historically multi-denominational seminary and a convening place for civil dialogue—with a commitment to academic freedom—we strive to serve the global Christian church in its various perspectives. We remain committed to these relationships in all their complexities while maintaining community standards and a statement of faith that apply to various areas of beliefs and behavior. Students are informed of and explicitly agree to abide by these standards when applying to the institution.”
Maxon said she was single when she applied to the institution in 2015 but later married her partner. Administrators found out last year through Maxon’s 2016 tax return, which was included in her financial aid documentation.
When administrators confronted her with their objections, Maxon wrote a letter to School of Theology Dean Marianne Meye Thompson that said, in part, she had made “a financial, emotional, and legal commitment to the person I love,” according to the suit.
On Oct. 9, 2018, citing the school’s “sexual standard,” Thompson expelled Maxon from the school, the filing states.
Maxon “did attempt to resolve this through the college and then we did try to negotiate with the school for several months before filing,” attorney Southwick said.
The impacts of her ejection include “humiliation, emotional distress and other damages,” the suit said. Claimed damages were estimated to be $500,000.
Maxon said she’s not sure if she’ll try to finish her master’s degree at another institution.
“It took me a year just to get to the point where I was confident enough to talk about this out in the open,” she said. “I’d like to make this process easier for other students. I really hate the idea of someone else going through this.”