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Court Orders University to Re-Hire Transgender Professor

Rachel Tudor, an English professor, sued Southeastern Oklahoma State University for denying her tenure. She alleged that the University denied her tenure because she is transgender. When Tudor began teaching at the institution, she presented as male. About a year later, she notified Human Resources of her intention to transition. When she applied for tenure following her transition, the University denied her. She applied again. This time the faculty committee and department chair voted to approve her bid. However, the administration recommended against her tenure. She appealed the decision within the school and reapplied again, providing updates to her work. Still, the University denied her tenure. Tudor said staff members advised her that the school’s vice-president was hostile to transgender individuals. One Human Resources staff member allegedly said the vice-president asked if Tudor could be fired outright for her “transgender lifestyle.” Tudor further claimed human resources counseled her against wearing short skirts and told her to use a gender-neutral bathroom located on another floor.

Tudor’s discrimination claims went to a jury which awarded her $1 million in damages plus front-pay wages of approximately $60,000. The court reduced the damages award to $300,000 because of Title VII’s damages cap. Tudor asked the court to be reinstated with tenure to her former position. The lower court sided with the University and denied her request because of hostility between the parties. Tudor appealed the issue of reinstatement to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its opinion, the circuit court “start[ed] with the strong preference for reinstatement, and then ask[ed] if the defendant has overcome this presumption by establishing the existence of extreme hostility between the parties.” Some animosity by the University would not meet that standard because workarounds and other solutions would minimize it. The English department chair’s preference not to have Tudor return with the other professors “split” on the issue was thus not enough to show extreme hostility. The University had sufficient resources to “eliminate or otherwise ameliorate any hostility on its side toward the plaintiff,” according to the appellate court.