The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Latest motion claims staff immune in suit

By Joshua Knopp/managing editor

TCC attorneys representing two NE Campus faculty members being sued for sexual discrimination have made a motion for qualified immunity, which would negate the charges against them. The plaintiff has responded with a motion opposing them.

Humanities dean Antonio Howell and English chair Eric Devlin are being sued by Jacqueline Gill, who was a temporary full-time teacher on NE August 2009-December 2010. Gill says her peers received permanent full-time jobs, but her contract was not extended and she was not interviewed. She alleges that she was not rehired because she is a lesbian. This violates her 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, she says.

The college had already filed a motion alleging Gill was let go for poor teaching, including not showing up for all of her classes and lying to her supervisors.

While a Dec. 8 date had previously been set at which discovery would begin, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Means ordered the plaintiff file a motion with more fact-based allegations so that qualified immunity doesn’t nullify the case. Qualified immunity is a federal doctrine that protects government employees serving in a discretionary position from liability for violating constitutional rights.

To get past the defense of qualified immunity, the plaintiffs must prove the defendants acted in violation of a “clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known.” The defendants were also ordered to file a motion in support of qualified immunity.

This order postponed other pre-trial motions because the case would be dismissed entirely if immunity were granted, said vice chancellor of administration and general counsel Angela Robinson.

“Because qualified immunity can essentially act as a bar to the lawsuit against government officials in their individual capacities, it is not uncommon for a court to require that the parties address this issue first before proceeding with the rest of the litigation,” Robinson said.

Howell and Devlin’s motion, filed Jan. 6, reaffirms their statement that Gill’s complaint isn’t sufficient to claim damages and doesn’t get past the defense of qualified immunity.

Gill’s motion, filed Jan. 27, states Gill’s rights were clearly established and that she did allege sufficient facts.

The motion states that while there is no Texas or federal law that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals, the 14th Amendment has consistently been interpreted by the Supreme Court as protecting homosexuals. The motion also requests that Gill be allowed to amend her complaint to clear any deficiencies the court found.

The college’s motion states that because the suit is frivolous, Gill is responsible for Devlin’s and Howell’s legal fees. Robinson said this could range into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Gill’s motion states that Devlin and Howell are not entitled to attorney’s fees.

Both Devlin and Howell declined comment.

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