The conflict for Manuel Fernandez began in the spring of 2007, when he was chastised for not buying and wearing a red “Day of Silence” t-shirt. Administrators at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, where Fernandez taught in the Social Justice learning community, strongly encouraged teachers to participate in the pro-homosexual Day of Silence, even though the event bills itself as a student-led protest. Shortly after Fernandez declined to buy and wear the shirt, he received a written review that rebuked him, stating that he “sometimes had difficulty understanding his colleagues’ attempts at incorporating issues of social justice into the curriculum and, at times, he has not been supportive of those issues, such as LGBTQ rights.” LGBTQ is an acronym increasingly used to mean Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning.
Fernandez also drew fire for voicing the requests of his predominantly Hispanic Catholic students that a pro-gay poster be moved inside to a classroom bulletin board so they would not have to walk under it several times a day. Fernandez was then shunned by fellow teachers and administrators, given larger, more unruly classes, moved to a less desirable location, and ordered not to send any problem students to the principal’s office. Fernandez eventually sought medical treatment for stress and related medical problems and finally placed on medical leave by his physician after more than a year of harassment. Fernandez’ lawsuit, filed in state court and removed by LAUSD to federal court, alleges First Amendment violations and discrimination, harassment and retaliation under state employment laws.
Attorney Karen Milam, who heads the Southern California office of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “No teacher should be required to support a political agenda in violation of his conscience as a condition of keeping his job. We are looking forward to this opportunity to vindicate Mr. Fernandez and protect teachers throughout California.”