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Lesbian teacher settles federal discrimination lawsuit with Maine district

York School District YSD Maine back to school teacher orientation
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Michele Figueira had a stellar 20-year career until she reported the alleged behavior of her supervisor and her lesbian friend.

A special education teacher in Maine has settled a federal lawsuit filed against her former employer, which she claimed discriminated against her because she is a lesbian.

Terms of the agreement between teacher Michele Figueira and the York School District in Maine were not disclosed, but her suit against the district was filled with allegations of inappropriate behavior and retaliation by school officials, according to the Portland Press Herald. Figueira worked for the district from 2018 to 2021, when her contract was not renewed.

“During her employment with YSD Figueira was subjected to a series of degrading and humiliating remarks about her sexuality (and about the sexuality of other teachers and parents) from her direct supervisor, Joelle Coleman. Figueira repeatedly told Ms. Coleman to stop and explained to her why her comments were offensive and derogatory, but she continued,” the lawsuit claimed.

The suit also singled out the behavior of Carla Gill, a middle school educator and a lesbian who was friendly with Coleman.

In a discussion with Coleman about which teachers were LGBTQ+ in the school, Gill allegedly speculated if it was “like a Gay and Lesbian University at the high school” and asked, “Where did they get so many gay and lesbian teachers?”

Another time the pair passed a female teacher and Gill reportedly said, “There’s another one.” When Figueira noted the teacher was married with two children, Gill allegedly responded, “Oh no, she just has not realized it yet or admitted it.”

Coleman reportedly inquired about Figueira’s “gaydar” on one occasion. Another time she allegedly asked Figueira to wear rainbow or Pride-themed clothing when meeting with the gay parents of a student she had previously described as “needy” while using a limp-wristed gesture.

Coleman also reportedly asked Figueira if she and her wife had “roles” in their relationship.

Despite confronting her with the offensive and inappropriate nature of her behavior and comments, Figueira said Coleman’s abuse continued.

Figueira eventually reported the sexual harassment to the school’s LGBTQ+ program coordinator in 2020. At this point, Coleman reportedly told Figueira she had “f*cked up” multiple times but refused to apologize.

Following the advice of the LGBTQ+ program coordinator, Figueira filed a formal complaint on or around May 29, 2020. Less than two weeks later, on June 10, the board found the behavior of Coleman “did not violate the York School Department’s harassment and discrimination policies” despite Coleman receiving a “Written Warning for inappropriate behavior” for her actions.

According to the lawsuit, Coleman once claimed anyone who “f*cked with [her] would get f*cked over twice.” The lawsuit alleged Figueira was subjected to such retaliation in the days ahead.

Following the district’s decision, Figueira claimed Coleman began a campaign to undermine her on the job and “singled her out for additional scrutiny and discipline,” the suit says. Despite having an exemplary record with written commendations and reviews, she claimed she received her first warning in 20 years of service when she stuttered and misspoke under duress during a video conference call. She was then investigated for four other claims which she said were baseless.

Figueira requested and received 12 weeks of medical leave, but YSD took the unusual step of disabling her email account while she was on leave. A union representative reported they had never seen this step taken before.

She was given a letter of warning in April 2021 while still on leave, and the next month was told her contract would not be renewed when it expired in August 2021.

Figueira filed suit in July 2023 in U.S. District Court in Portland. YSD denied all the claims, saying she was let go because she did not “work with her colleagues in a collegial manner,” which disrupted the students' education.

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