A teacher filed a lawsuit against her school district, alleging that she had been the victim of same-sex harassment and bullying by other female coaches working at the same campus.

The teacher worked as a coach and PE teacher at a junior high and received good evaluations, except that in her summative conference, the principal voiced a concern that she was not “getting along” with another female coach in the girls athletic department. The principal recommended that the two coaches meet with the school counselor and report any problems to her. The teacher agreed.

Two months later, the teacher visited the principal’s office to complain about the other coach. She was so emotional that the principal secured a substitute to cover afternoon classes and permitted her to leave work to prepare a written report. The teacher missed the next two days of school. On her return, she submitted a 13-page typed letter, detailing complaints against the other coach that extended back to the start of the school year. She alleged that the other coach harassed and bullied her on a daily basis and that she had reported the conduct to the girls athletic department coordinator, but nothing had been done. She stated that she had not reported it earlier because she feared retaliation. Among the complaints the teacher made were allegations that the coach made vulgar comments about her breasts and buttocks, discussed her sex life with other coaches, and purchased “indecent ornaments” to exchange at the holiday party. The teacher never alleged that the offensive acts occurred because she was a woman.

The problems persisted into the next school year and the teacher filed a complaint with the EEOC, accusing the other coaches of sexual harassment. She also accused the district of failing to take action to stop the harassment. The teacher was transferred, but she continued to have conflicts with co-workers and complained of perceived slights. She also admitted to lying about an incident involving a violation of state standardized-testing protocols. She was placed on administrative leave with pay, and during the subsequent investigation the district discovered other performance problems, such as neglect of coaching duties and bringing her daughter to school during instructional time in violation of previously issued directives. The district proposed the termination of her contract on this basis and the teacher did not request a hearing. Her contract was terminated.

The teacher filed a lawsuit, asserting sexual harassment and retaliation. The district responded that there was no evidence that the teacher had been sexually harassed and that she had been fired due to performance problems, not retaliation.

In order to prove sexual harassment, the teacher needed to prove that she was harassed because of her gender. The Texas Supreme Court found that she could not prove this. Although the courts recognize that same-sex harassment can occur, proving that the conduct was sexually motivated can be more complicated when the alleged harassment involves people of the same gender. In this case, there was no evidence to show that the harassment was motivated by sexual desire or that the harasser intended to have sexual contact with the teacher. Indeed, there was no evidence that the harasser is homosexual. Comments about gender-specific anatomy do not raise an inference that harassment is because of gender.

The Texas Supreme Court found that, although the teacher “experienced misery at work that no employee should endure,” there was no basis for a lawsuit based on sexual harassment. Additionally, there was no basis for a retaliation lawsuit because there was evidence to show that the teacher had been terminated for performance reasons, not retaliation.