Former Greendale teacher sues district for violating his religious freedom rights

A lawsuit filed by a former Greendale School District teacher indicates that the district doesn’t celebrate or welcome diversity of religious beliefs. Robert Clay recently filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the district, accusing it of violating his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Damage done

In his lawsuit, Clay says he suffered loss of pay and benefits over his religious opposition to same-sex marriage. He also says Greendale School District harmed his reputation.

Clay is represented by employment law attorneys Alan C. Olson and Nicholas Yurk. They filed the lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Wisconsin.

“Public schools are not religion-free zones,” Olson said.

Deep beliefs

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Clay is a devout Protestant whose “personal religious convictions are opposed to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.” He says he told the principal of Greendale Middle School about his beliefs soon after he became a full-time, permanent employee.

In December 2019, a student joked that she was getting married to another of Clay’s female students, referring to the other girl as her “husband.” Clay replied that he didn’t know the other student is a boy.

Message of support

Concerned that his comment might be perceived as disrespectful to LGBT students, Clay emailed his students that night to clarify his opposition to same-sex marriage, and to state that he supported all of his students.

Afterwards, a student’s parent filed a complaint about the email with the school district. The district subsequently suspended Clay without pay, stating that he’d violated the district’s policy on teachers opining on controversial issues and its policy forbidding discrimination and harassment.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that public employees do not relinquish their right to speak out on matters of public importance, or public concern, simply because they have accepted government employment,” said Olson.

School district’s decision

The district then recommended to the school board that Clay should be fired, and he was asked to resign in lieu of termination.

Before the board responded to the district’s recommendation, and before Clay was allowed to rebut it, the school district began posting notices on job boards seeking his replacement.

The Journal Sentinel reports that “the board ultimately approved the district’s recommendation to fire Clay on Jan. 20, 2020.”

No court date has been set yet for the case.

Fighting for fairness

Discrimination of any kind in the workplace has consequences. Alan C. Olson & Associates stands up for victims of workplace discrimination throughout Milwaukee. If you believe you have a case, contact our experienced attorneys today.


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