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Kansas middle school teacher who was suspended for repeatedly misgendering student gets $95,000 from district in lawsuit settlement

Former Kansas middle school teacher Pamela Ricard was suspended last year after repeatedly deadnaming and using the incorrect pronouns of an LGBTQ student. She sued, and on Wednesday, the case settled with the school district paying her $95,000. 

Ricard, who retired from teaching at the school in May, was listed as an elective math strategies teacher on the school website.

According to Ricard’s own legal complaint filed in March, she had been told by Fort Riley Middle School’s counselor that the student in question preferred a name other than what was on their legal and enrollment documents. A classmate told Picard the student preferred he/him pronouns.

Despite the orders from the school and information from the school counselor and the student’s classmates, Ricard alleged that the student in question never directly asked for the change. The complaint also states that the district did not have a “formal policy” about adhering to students’ preferred names and pronouns, and that she was suspended under generic policies related to staff bullying. 

Ricard, who had taught at the school since 2005, continued to refer to the student as “Miss [student’s legal last name]” – which the complaint says was “intended to be respectful” in a way that didn’t compromise her own beliefs. 

Ricard was suspended for three days and was issued a formal reprimand. A week after she returned, staff was given documents on gender diversity training and were told that teachers who fail to use students’ preferred names and pronouns would be disciplined for discrimination. 

In October 2021, the school board updated their policy to say that parents would not be notified of the preferred name and pronoun change unless students specifically requested it. This policy was eventually revoked after a judge said Ricard could stop adhering to that particular aspect of the policy and avoid using students’ preferred pronouns, but not their preferred names, her lawyers said. 

Ricard, however, requested a religious exemption from the policy, saying in the complaint that she “holds sincere religious beliefs consistent with the traditional Christian and biblical understand of the human person and biological sex.” 

“Ms. Ricard believes that God created human beings as either male or female, that this sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual person’s feelings, desires, or preferences,” the complaint says, saying that forcing her to use a students’ preferred names or pronouns is a violation of her religious beliefs. 

Ricard was represented by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom – a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its legal attacks on the LGBTQ community, including for supporting the criminalization of sex acts between LGBTQ adults. Her attorneys said Wednesday that officials at her former middle school agreed to pay her $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees for violating her First Amendment rights. The case was then voluntarily dismissed

CBS News has reached out to the school board and the defendants’ attorneys for comment. 

ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement that teachers should not be forced by school districts to “willfully deceive parents or engage in speech that violates their deeply held religious beliefs.” 

Misgendering and deadnaming – using a transgender or nonbinary person’s birth name rather than the name they have chosen to be in line with their gender identity – has proven to be harmful, particularly LGBTQ youth. 

Cleveland Clinic child and adolescent psychiatrist Jason Labrese said that deadnaming can be disrespectful when done intentionally, and can also be a significant trigger of stress and trauma. 

“It can remind them of that period in their lives before they could take steps to affirm who they are,” he said ina Cleveland Clinic post. “Deadnaming might bring them back into those more negative times in their lives. And often, that gender dysphoria (distress that comes from one’s sex assigned at birth not lining up with their true gender identity) can be associated with depression and anxiety.”

According to The Trevor Project’s 2022 survey, 71% of trans and nonbinary youth say they’ve experienced gender-based discrimination. Those who experienced discrimination based on their gender or sexual orientation were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who didn’t experience those kinds of discrimination. 


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