In a federal lawsuit, a Texas woman is accusing Fuller Theological Seminary of violating her civil rights and Title IX of the US Education Code, which prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions that accept federal funds.
Joanna Maxon claims that she was kicked out of the school’s online program after administrators learned of her same-sex marriage.
“Defendants discriminated against Mrs. Maxon based on her sexual orientation because it expelled Mrs. Maxon for entering into a civil same-sex marriage,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants also discriminated against Mrs. Maxon based on her sex and sexual orientation by subjecting her to stricter disciplinary action than Fuller would have subjected a male, heterosexual student.”
According to the college’s website, “Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried.”
At the time Maxon enrolled in 2015 she was married to a man and agreed to follow the college’s code of conduct, including those regarding sexual standards.
But sometime before she began her first class, her marriage ended and Maxon began dating a woman.
She married her wife after the US Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in 2016. She authorized the release of her tax returns during a review of her financial aid.
During that review, college officials discovered she was married to a woman and she was expelled from the college.
Fuller’s campus is in Pasadena, but most of the students attend the college online, according to the lawsuit.
“As a historically multi-denominational seminary and a convening place for civil dialogue — with a commitment to academic freedom — we strive to serve the global Christian church in its various perspectives,” school officials said in the statement. “We remain committed to these relationships in all their complexities while maintaining community standards and a statement of faith that apply to various areas of beliefs and behavior. Students are informed of and explicitly agree to abide by these standards when applying to the institution.”
However, since Maxon received federal assistance to attend the college, it could be a Title IX violation to remove her from the seminary. Title IX prohibits gender identity discrimination at institutions that accept federal aid.
According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the law was passed as a followup to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to end discrimination in various fields based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in the areas of employment and public accommodation.
Many people think of the law as a sports equity remedy that gives girls the right to try and compete on boys’ teams instead of an anti-discrimination law.
The Civil Rights Act did not prohibit sex discrimination against persons employed at educational institutions. A parallel law, Title VI, was enacted in 1964 to prohibit discrimination in federally funded private and public entities. It covered race, color and national origin but excluded sex.
In the early 1970s, Congress lobbied to add sex as a protected class category which led to Title IX.
Athletics took center stage in Title IX after Texas Congressman John Tower unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would have exempted athletics departments from the scope of Title IX’s coverage.
According to the OCR, religious institutions are entitled to exemptions from Title IX nondiscrimination rules if the school is connected to a church.
In April, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear three cases centered on the question of whether Title IX applies to sexual orientation and gender identity, neither of which are explicitly mentioned in the law.
“Mrs. Maxon financed her education through federal funding from the US Department of Education,” the lawsuit reads. “Now, after suddenly being expelled because of her same-sex marriage, Mrs. Maxon has to repay those loans and to reassess her professional goals.”