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School sued after firing lesbian teacher

Correction:     An earlier version of this story spelled "Corunna" incorrectly. It has been fixed.

The Corunna Public School District is facing a federal lawsuit after a lesbian teacher was fired. The controversy started with a Diversity Club at the high school in the small town west of Flint.

Brook Johnson was a teacher/advisor to the Diversity Club. In 2009 the club decided to put up a display in honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History month. It featured photos of celebrities who had come out as gay or lesbian. It caused controversy and the school board ordered it removed.

The ACLU challenged the decision. The Corunna Board of Education changed its position and allowed the display.

The lawsuit alleges the administration then turned on Johnson, ostracizing her and then forcing her out.

Jon Marko is the teacher’s lawyer.

“They wanted to punish her for exercising her First Amendment rights. And because they disagreed with her, they were going to drive her out. And that’s what the ultimately did and she was ultimately fired,” Marko said in a phone interview.

Marko claims the Diversity Club promoted tolerance and equality for all, but an administrator told Johnson that was in direct conflict with Corunna's values.

There are no protections for people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender in Michigan. Marko explained the federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Michigan alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause, discrimination based on sex and violation of Johnson's First Amendment rights.

“First Amendment is freedom of speech. That doesn’t mean that because you disagree with someone’s viewpoint or their speech that you can retaliate against them.”

The recently hired Superintendent of the Corunna Schools, Linda Coleman, said she’s not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment on it.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.