A gay middle school science teacher is suing the private Pegasus School in Huntington Beach over allegations they discriminated against him and forced him to quit because he is HIV positive.
According to court documents, the head of the school and the middle school director “waged a
discrimination campaign” against Matthew Edmondson that started in February and culminated with the teacher leaving Pegasus in March under threats and duress.
“This is a textbook case of workplace
discrimination,” claims Brian Chase, Edmondson's lawyer with Bisnar | Chase Personal Injury Attorneys
of Los Angeles, in a statement first posted by Will Kohler of Back2Stonewall.com, an LGBT history, media and pop culture site.
“What's tragic is that this is a respected teacher,
friend and colleague who has spent his entire professional career
educating children and helping others,” Chase continues. “Simply put, Matthew was forced
out of his job due to egregious verbal abuse, derogatory comments,
insults and threats of criminal prosecution for no other reasons than
his sexual orientation and medical condition.”
The Weekly has reached out to John Zurn, the head of Pegasus School, for comment and will post that once we hear back. He is the second Head of School at Pegasus after founder Laura Hathaway, who in 1984 established the school, according to its website, “with vision, with dedication, and with courage.”
The mission statement: “The
Pegasus School is dedicated to academic excellence and to the
development of lifelong learners who are confident, caring, and
Edmondson taught at Pegasus for four years before leaving for Texas, but he was asked back to teach eighth grade science in the spring of 2007 despite administrators and staff members knowing he was gay and HIV positive. Chase's statement described the school and its employees as “very accommodating and friendly” through October 2011, when Edmondson's doctor changed his medication, causing adverse side effects.
He continued teaching and is said to have never taken more than his allotted personal time off. But the good vibes that had come his way on the job changed when he mentioned the drug side effects to Zurn, who had been appointed to the top job after Edmondson's first tour at the school, and middle school director Joseph Williamson, according to the complaint.
The suit alleges Zurn and Williamson conducted “a series of randomly scheduled meetings under the guise of discussing Matthew's curriculum plans for the coming year even though no other Pegasus teachers were asked to do so,” and that for the first time in his career his classroom methods were being questioned despite “glowing nine-year teaching evaluations.”
Zurn and Williamson also began pressing Edmondson to disclose his reasons for taking personal time off, through they knew why, according to the complaint.
When the administrators learned Edmondson tried to record one of their random meetings, they demanded the teacher sign a “confidential agreement and release” on March 21 lest he face arrest and prosecution for illegally recording the session, according to the suit, which notes he signed the pact two days later and left the school.
He is suing for: workplace discrimination due to sexual orientation, medical condition and physical disability; creating and/or knowingly permitting harassment and a hostile work environment; breach of contract; wrongful termination; and violations of business and professions codes.