An appellate court on Monday ordered Southeastern Oklahoma State University to reinstate with tenure a transgender professor who was fired after an administrator said her “lifestyle” offended him.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 55-page ruling, rejected Southeastern’s challenges to its lower court loss and ordered that Rachel Tudor be reinstated with tenure and lost pay. However, the court left intact a $300,000 damages cap.
The appellate court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City with instructions to fashion a reinstatement order, recalculate the amount of wages lost due to her firing and to determine the amount of attorneys fees owed to Tudor’s lawyer.
In a statement attributed to Tudor, the English professor said she is “looking forward to being the first tenured Native American professor in her department in the 100-plus year history of the Native American-serving institution that is Southeastern Oklahoma State University.”
The statement continues: “As injurious as the sex discrimination and retaliation were to Dr. Tudor, she did not consider it merely personal. Rather, she was a symbol to those who discriminated against her. They wanted to create an environment where certain views and certain people are punished to create fear and shame instead of self-confidence and opportunity for all.
“They wanted people like Dr. Tudor to be afraid, and to go away. Instead of going away, instead of accepting a settlement — conditioned on never teaching in Oklahoma — she fought for the rights and dignity of her Native and LGBT communities.
“Dr. Tudor would like to thank her allies and colleagues for their support through 10 long years of fighting for justice. She is grateful and honored to be the recipient of their goodwill. She promises to repay their trust by being the best professor she can be.”
Tudor is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, according to court filings.
A federal jury in 2017 awarded Tudor $1.165 million after finding that the university wrongfully denied her tenure.
The U.S. Justice Department in 2015 sued Southeastern Oklahoma State University on behalf of Tudor after she claimed that the university discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and retaliated against her when she complained about the discrimination.
Tudor began working for the university in Durant in 2004 as a male assistant professor in the English department.
Tudor, consistent with her gender identity, began to present as a woman at work in 2007.
She claimed that after presenting as a woman she received a telephone call from an employee in the university’s human resources department telling her that the university’s vice president for academic affairs, Douglas McMillan, asked whether Tudor could be fired because her “transgender lifestyle” offended his religious beliefs.
Tudor was denied tenure in the fall of 2009, despite a committee’s recommendation that she be promoted, according to court records.
Tudor was fired following the 2010-11 academic year because she had not obtained tenure, according to her lawsuit.
After Tudor filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 filed a civil complaint against Southeastern, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. Tudor joined the case the same year, claiming discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment.
The Justice Department settled its portion of the lawsuit in 2017 after the university agreed to implement policy changes aimed at reducing discrimination at the university.
Following a trial in November 2017, a jury found for Tudor on her claims of discrimination and retaliation, but it ruled for the university on the hostile work environment claim.
While the jury awarded Tudor more than $1 million in damages, the trial court judge later reduced the amount to $300,000 in keeping with the state of Oklahoma’s cap on damages.
Southeastern sent the following response on behalf of its president, Thomas Newsom, when asked for comment on the ruling Monday:
“We received the Tenth Circuit Court’s decision today in the Tudor v. Southeastern issue. However, due to pending litigation, we will not publicly discuss any specifics of the situation. The University will continue to focus its efforts on educating students as the legal system moves forward.”
The case received friend of the court briefs from more than two dozen various rights groups, including the National Organization for Women Foundation, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
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