Two women sued the University of Southern California and New Mexico State University this week claiming they were wrongfully terminated from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.
In one case, a former professor at USC who is a lesbian alleged that the dean of the Roski School of Art and Design harassed her for her sexual orientation before firing her last year. In the other case, former professional basketball player Camille LeNoir, who has said she has chosen not to be a lesbian, sued for $6 million after the head coach of NMSU’s women’s team offered her an assistant position this year but abruptly terminated it after finding out about her sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
While the allegations are different, both cases point to the growing number of gender discrimination cases brought by women in professional fields.
“This case involves important matters of public concern not for not only the administration, faculty and student body of the University of Southern California, and the greater Los Angeles community, but also for college faculties, student bodies and administrations worldwide that look to institutions like USC as models of tolerance and progress, especially with respect to the rights of LGBT individuals,” wrote the former USC professor, A.L. Steiner, in her complaint.
Spokeswomen at both USC and NMSU also did not return calls for comment.
Steiner was hired in 2011 as a lecturer at the Roski school but later became visiting assistant professor and director of the masters of fine arts program. She claims she was fired after she complained about “invidious discrimination and harassment” by Dean Erica Muhl, who called her “offensive” and “imperious.”
“Muhl expects women to behave a certain way, and Steiner was not fulfilling those expectations,” said Steiner’s attorney, Jana Moser, counsel at Rushovich Mehtani in Los Angeles. “After Steiner made a complaint about it to the school, she was retaliated against and ultimately her contract was terminated.”
Months earlier, Muhl rescinded funding and curricular offers to seven students Steiner had recruited to the program, prompting the entire class to “withdraw from the program,” according to the suit. Students who left the program at that time blamed changes under Muhl’s tenure involving “faculty, curriculum, program structure, and funding packages,” according to a publicized letter.
In the NMSU case, LeNoir played basketball for USC’s women’s team for four years before being drafted in 2009 by the Washington Mystics. On April 24, her former USC coach, Mark Trakh, offered her the job at NMSU’s women’s basketball team, where he is head coach, according to the complaint. She accepted the job, but two days later, Trakh told her he was retracting the offer because “NMSU discovered a communication in which Ms. LeNoir discussed her own sexual orientation and her Christian faith.”
The lawsuit doesn’t identify the communication. But in 2011, LeNoir did a video interview still online in which she talked about choosing not to be homosexual due to her Christian beliefs.
Her suit claims the university discriminated against her due to her sexual orientation and religious beliefs and attempted to control her political beliefs by firing her due to her “comments on homosexuality.”
“She just said for herself that’s not the lifestyle she wanted,” said LeNoir attorney Jonathan Delshad, a solo practitioner in Los Angeles. “We thought that can be construed as a political statement.”
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com. On Twitter: @abronstadnlj.