Philosophy Professor Sues College for Retaliation (updated)

Lauren Barthold, associate professor of philosophy at Gordon College, a Christian liberal arts college in Massachusetts, has filed a lawsuit against the college for retaliating against her for her public statements (such as a letter to the editor of a newspaper) disagreeing with college president Michael Lindsay over whether federal contractors, on the basis of religious beliefs, should be allowed to discriminate in hiring against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, or queer (LGBTQ) persons.

The lawsuit is being filed with assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. According to the ACLU,

Barthold was threatened with termination and later disciplined because she wrote a letter to a newspaper and was quoted in a newspaper article as a critic of the president’s action. Although the administration backed down from the threat to terminate Professor Barthold after receiving a warning letter from one of her attorneys, they subsequently imposed discipline on her—removing her from faculty leadership positions, denying her the scheduled right to apply for a promotion, and removing her from serving as director of the gender studies minor.

The lawsuit, filed in Essex Superior Court, contends that Gordon officials violated various state laws protecting against retaliation for opposing discrimination, sex discrimination, and interference with freedom of expression and association.

According to the legal complaint, Professor Barthold position “does not involve or require her to espouse or promote any particular religious doctrine” and that her job as a professor “does not differ from the typical role of a professor at a non-Christian college.”

The complaint, if accurate contains some rather bad behavior by President Lindsay and his administration, including Provost Janel Curry, Executive Vice President Dan Tymann, and Human Resources officer Nancy Anderson. For example:

  • offering to have a private “safe space” dialogue with Professor Barthold, only to yell at her and tell her she should “rethink her relationship with Gordon College” for having written the letter
  • telling the entire Gordon College faculty that “the faculty could not have a discussion about Gordon’s hiring policy among themselves” because they might end up disagreeing with the College’s board of trustees.
  • threatening Professor Barthold with termination for “publicizing internal differences” at the College
  • telling Professor Barthold she would be ineligible for promotion to full professor—one day after she submitted her entire promotion dossier—despite having earlier been informed by the administration that she was indeed eligible.
  • removing Professor Barthold from her directorship of the Gender Studies minor at the College.

I am in contact with the ACLU of Massachusetts, and I will provide updates on the case as they come my way.

(Here is coverage in the Boston Globe from 2014 about the disagreement faculty had with President Lindsay over his signing the letter requesting to be able to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And here’s a 2015 Inside Higher Ed piece on that and Gordon College’s policy barring any one enrolled or employed by the school from having sex outside of heterosexual marriage.)

UPDATE (4/29/16): Inside Higher Ed has an article on the lawsuit here.

UPDATE 2 (4/29/16): Rick Sweeney, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Gordon College has provided the following statement:

Gordon College was saddened and disappointed by the ACLU of Massachusetts’ press release related to the discipline of Professor Lauren Barthold. The ACLU’s release grossly misrepresents what happened and why Professor Barthold was disciplined. It was Professor Barthold’s peers on the Faculty Senate who voted to discipline her. The discipline was not a response to her disagreement with the College on any policies but expressly because she publicly called for a boycott of the school and severing of ties, which would harm students and potentially affect faculty and staff at Gordon. 

As the ACLU’s own release highlights, Gordon has encouraged a very healthy and open discussion of sexuality over the last few years.  At no time has any action been taken to suppress open dialogue or suppress differences within our community. Far from seeking to suppress such disagreement and discussion, Gordon has fostered dialogue by bringing in pro-LGBTQ speakers and funding programs to support LGBTQ students. Professor Barthold’s faculty peers voted to discipline her in a manner consistent with past precedent because her actions harmed the Gordon community and violated their trust.

Anyone with information about the accuracy of this statement or assertions made in the legal complaint is welcome to confidentially email me.


Gordon College logo anti LGBTQ

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