BROWNSBURG — A former Brownsburg orchestra teacher who refused to call transgender students by their preferred name citing his religious beliefs has filed a federal lawsuit against the district and several administrators claiming "discrimination, harassment and retaliation."
The lawsuit claims the Brownsburg Community School Corp. and its administrators violated John Kluge's First Amendment right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, among others. The lawsuit seeks full back-pay and the value of benefits as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
Vicky Murphy, coordinator of communications for the school corporation, declined to comment citing the pending litigation.
The Brownsburg school board voted in May 2018 to accept the Kluge's resignation despite an effort by Kluge to rescind the resignation. Kluge claimed he was forced to resign because of the school's transgender policy.
According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, in May 2017 Kluge communicated to district officials a conflict between his religious beliefs and transgenderism. During the summer of 2017, the district began to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice and to change their names on the school database to a new, transgender name which was not the students' legal name.
School employees were instructed to use the students' preferred name.
Kluge alleges in the lawsuit that when he communicated his conflict to Superintendent Dr. James Snapp in July 2017, Snapp told Kluge he could use the transgender names, say he was forced to resign or be terminated without pay.
According to court documents, Kluge requested an accommodation for his religious beliefs that consisted of addressing all students by their last names only. Snapp reportedly agreed to the accommodation in writing in July 2017.
In December 2017, Brownsburg High School Principal Bret Daghe reportedly met with Kluge in December 2017 and told him the accommodation created "tension" and that Kluge should resign by the end of the year. The two also reportedly met in January 2018 where Daghe allegedly requested Kluge to resign by the end of the school year.
In the lawsuit, Kluge alleges Jodi Gordon, the district's human resources director, told him in February 2018 that his religious accommodation was being withdrawn because students were offended at the use of last names. Kluge claims he never told his students why he was referring to them by their last names.
The lawsuit specifically names the school corporation, Snapp, Daghe, Gordon and Phil Utterback, the school board president, as defendants.