Seventh Circuit Upholds Termination of High School Teacher Who Objected to Pronoun Policy

There is an important ruling this month out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which ruled against former high school music teacher John Kluge for refusing to comply with the school’s pronoun policy for religious reasons. What is most curious about the ruling is the timing. The Seventh Circuit opinion from April 7th is particularly interesting given the oral argument in the Supreme Court in Groff v. DeJoy only 11 days after the appellate ruling. Groff could gut the underlying standard used by the Seventh Circuit in its ruling for the school district. The opinion also puts the appellate court in conflict with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in its recent Meriweather decision.

Kluge sought an accommodation in using just the last names of the students “like a sports coach” and had another teacher hand out gender-based band uniforms. However, he sought to compromise in formal settings by using both names:

In May 2018, as part of the curriculum, Kluge participated in an orchestra awards ceremony. R. 120-3, at 32–33. At the ceremony, he addressed the students, including the transgender students, by their first and last names as they appeared in PowerSchool. … Kluge explained that he did this because “it would have been unreasonable and conspicuous to address students in such an informal manner at such a formal event as opposed to the classroom setting where teachers refer to students by last names as a normal form of address.”

We have discussed the last name option in earlier posts, including the settlement in the Meriwether case. In Ohio,  Shawnee State University Professor Nicholas Meriwether, won a major appeal before the Sixth Circuit, which reversed a lower court that initially upheld his punishment for not using a student’s designated pronoun choices. The school had refused Meriwether’s suggested compromises to just use the last name of the complaining student or use chosen pronouns after adding a personal disclaimer on the syllabus.

These are admittedly difficult cases. On one hand, you have the religious beliefs of a teacher who feels that the use of these pronouns contradicts a core element of faith. On the other hand, you have a school district that believes that the refusal to use the student’s preferred gender and name is emotionally and developmentally harmful.

These questions come down legally to the level of accommodation required under federal law and the Constitution. That is precisely the issue in Groff that is now awaiting a decision of the Supreme Court. Gerald Groff was fired as a postal worker after refusing to work Sundays to observe his Sabbath.

Under Title VII, it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer—(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).

In Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), the Supreme Court held “[t]he intent and effect of this definition was to make it an unlawful employment practice under [sec. 2000e-2(a)(1)] for an employer not to make reasonable accommodations, short of undue hardship, for the religious practices of his employees and prospective employees.” The Court held that “[t]o require TWA to bear more than a de minimis cost in order to give Hardison Saturdays off is an undue hardship.” That de minimis test is at issue now in Groff and the Court is likely to change or dispense with the test, in my view.

The Seventh Circuit relied on Hardison in ruling for the district, finding that it initially tried the accommodation of using last names but decided that it was not sufficient to protect the mental health of students:

The school stretched to accommodate Kluge with a facially neutral accommodation of using last names only; nonetheless, the undisputed evidence showed that the practice resulted in genuine harm to students and real disruption to the learning environment. Moreover, Kluge’s practice was contrary to the preference of not only the school and the students, but also the students’ parents and healthcare providers, who had decided that it was in the best interest of these children to be addressed in a particular manner, with their PowerSchool names and pronouns.

It is interesting that the Seventh Circuit did not wait for the Groff decision, but it is not required to do so. There is also now a split in the circuits on the pronoun question with the unanimous opinion in the Meriwether case. (The Seventh Circuit does not discuss the opposing case).

Even if the Supreme Court does not negate the basis for the Seventh Circuit decision by changing the underlying test, the split in the circuits would militate in favor of a review of the pronoun controversy by the Court.

As we prepare for the Groff decision, I wanted to share the Seventh Circuit opinion.

Here it is: Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corp.


73 thoughts on “Seventh Circuit Upholds Termination of High School Teacher Who Objected to Pronoun Policy”

  1. How does calling a student by a last name cause “genuine harm”? My God, how are these people going to survive as adults, where they might have to walk past people who don’t like how they dress, or their shoes, or their quarterly reports? Shall they read the latest Fashion Police article, and then howl with outrage when someone doesn’t agree with their internal thoughts about themselves?

    How can anyone keep an infinity of nouns and verbs used as pronouns straight?

    1. All indications are they are doing poorly as adults.

      Many left leaning groups are actually being destroyed by the young and woke. Places like the ACLU are bringing in a young cohort that is going to war against those who have been there for years. These people can not get along ANYWHERE. It is not just that they can not refrain from calling conservatives, racist, sexist homophobes. They can not refrain from doing the same to their own kind.

      It is also increasingly evident that “woke” is a mental health problem afflicting the young – especially women.

  2. If it had to happen, I wish it was a biology teacher, for the irony.

    There are many dysphoria. Therians think they really are a different species, like a dog, horse, cat, or wolf. Otherkin think they really are a fictional or mythical species, like an Elf, Vampire, or dragon. People with Body Integrity Disorder think they are supposed to be amputees, and will beg doctors to remove perfectly healthy limbs. People with gender dysphoria might request perfectly healthy genitals or breasts to be removed. If someone really suffers from dysphoria, this feels real to them. It’s highly distressing to be confronted with the reality of their body or species.

    Then there are those who for various reasons get drawn into identifying as a different gender or species. Social contagion has been well documented, especially among girls. If one teenage girl identifies as transgender, the rest in her immediate friend group are at a higher risk of identifying as transgender. I say risk because amputating healthy breasts, getting sterilized, and rejecting the reality of one’s body is a negative outcome. The rapid onset of gender dysphoria has never been observed before. Throughout history, gender dysphoria has most often been observed in males, at a young age. Now, we’re seeing teenagers, or even adults suddenly declare, with no prior history, that they are transgender. Dylan Mulvaney is one such person. He lived his life as a gay man, and only began claiming to be female as an adult. He had no history of declaring he was female. I watched a speech by Matt Walsh in which he took questions from someone in the audience who identified as a trans woman. Matt asked how he knew he was trans. The man answered that his women friends told him he was a woman. I was absolutely shocked. There apparently was no history of gender dysphoria as a child or teen. This person, as a grown man, learned about the transgender movement sweeping Western Civilization, and then his friends advised him he was a woman only a year ago. After a year of dressing like a woman, and wearing makeup, he stood in front of Matt Walsh and declared he was a real woman, just like any other. The transgender movement has also outstripped gender dysphoria itself. Once gender became viewed as a state of mind, the sky was the limit for pronouns. Any noun or verb can be a personal pronoun, including rock and banana. If you don’t want to use banana as a pronoun, the Left could get you fired. You could be unable to make rent or a mortgage payment, and become homeless, because you won’t use “banana” as someone’s pronoun.

    The transgender movement seems to rely on everyone affirming that the person is the gender they say they are. I don’t need anyone else to say I’m a woman, or confirm I’m a woman, for me to believe I’m a woman. That’s the problem when the Left tried to make biology a state of mind. At some level, the person must know that the biological reality is they are a man. They can employ female stereotypes, dress in an ultra feminine way, and even go so far as surgical castration, but biologically, they are still males. A blood test will confirm XY. If archeologists uncovered their skeleton 2,000 years from now, it would be described as male. Reality cannot be wished away. I would love to be 24 again, and if I had a time machine I would have worn more sunscreen while riding. However, I cannot imagine dressing like I’m 24, and getting people fired unless they affirm with me daily that I’m 24. That’s just absurd. How is it tolerant or compassionate to fire someone who identifies other students biologically correctly? If we all have the right to choose how we identify, why don’t we have the right to choose how we identify others?

    Are teachers to be fired for not treating a therian student like an actual dog?

    The emperor has no clothes. Bravery is standing up to the mob and saying so.

  3. Meanwhile, in other Woke Insanity, as mandated in our esteemed Military-Industrial-Media-Educational-Judicial Complex . . .

    Founders Memorial School in Essex Junction, Vermont will no longer use “male” or female” in their health/science unit for fifth graders. Instead, they will use “person who produces sperm” or “person who produces eggs.”

    1. Do those on the left grasp how absurd this nonsense is ?

      The new language explicitly recognizes the need to identify the what has for as long as there has been language refered to as men and women.

      The world is NOT going to start refering to “people who produce sperm” and “people who produce eggs” – which is itself scientifically imprecise.

      But lets say that people started refering to the one group as “eggus” and the other as “spermus”

      We can now once again say that – only eggus can participate in sports for eggus, and that teenage eggus and spermus must have separate locker rooms in school and can not shower together.

      The left’s game play with words does not change reality. Nor does it change the need for humans to frequently and specifically refer to xx and xy chromosomed humans as unique and distinct and NOT including those who fantasize about having different chromosomes.

      I am free to fantasize that I am 20 something. athletic and musically gifted. That is still just a fantasy.
      No one is going to listen to my music or watch me at sports.

      Playing games with words does not change the underlying reality.

      1. John, the people behind this woke nonsense aren’t troubled by the absurdity and the inconsistency of their mandates and madness.

        Using their “logic,” a “person who produces eggs” can’t be “female” if she ceases to ovulate. And a “person who produces semen” can’t be “male” if he has prostate removal surgery that prevents production of semen.

        So, while you’re right that the “left’s game play with words does not change reality,” they can continue to ignore reality and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

        1. I agree with everything you said.

          But I was trying to point out that while the left tries to pretend there is some kind of moral issue here – there is not.

          Despite the stupidity of mangling the language of the science class – all they did was prove they still need a word to identify a woman, and a word to identify a man.

          The entire left wing nut debate is essentially over semantics, and the pretense that changing words will alter reality – when it is obvious that it will not.

          I do not give a schiff about the private conduct of consenting adults.
          Those people I know who are fundamentalist Christians do not care either – so long as they can calll that conduct a sin, and so long as they are not forced to do anything that requires them to afirm the goodness of something they call sin.
          Short of say West Borro Baptist Church the overwhelming majority of fundimentalist christians hold as truth “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of god”.
          Homosexuality is just another sin in their view.
          They are not looking to deny anyone their civil rights or jobs or anything like that.

          It is those on the left that are thin skinned and intolerant. They insist that those who call conduct they support “sin” MUST be forced into retraction.
          As if silencing people actually converted them.

          I do not agree with Christian Fundamentalists, But I have no problem living in peace with them. While those on the left insist that I must endorse their ideology in order to coexist.

          There are several issues with respect to transexuality. Three of which are specific to MTF Trans.

          The destruction of the meaning of words. We might as well be in animal house.

          Compelled speech. Ask politiely and I will probably call you whatever you want – when I do not inadvertently slip and call you what you look like.
          Tell me I MUST do something – and the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT.

          Sexualizing Children. I do not care Why you wish to to that – it is not happening.

          Biological men competing in womens sports – that is both wrong and dangerous.

          Biological men in environments that are safe and secure and exclusive to women – Gym locker rooms, prisons, etc.

          Most everything else we can solve. With little or no friction.

    2. This is literally insane. Deliberate civilization destruction and mental enslavement. The terms “male” and “female” refer to sexual reproductive roles, i.e. produces sperm, produces ova. Destruction of language. War is peace. 2+2=5… (Brave New World). Refuse to comply.

  4. These are NOT difficult cases. This is government compelled speech. Thomas More died resisting this evil.

  5. I am tired. When I was in school, the teacher was the authority–not saying that this was entirely correct. We have gone so far away from that for students to see how much they can get away with. Then there is a costly lawsuit. Always a lawsuit. In the meantime, the students are not getting an education that they need to use when they get out into society. What they are learning is how not to get along in society. They go to work, are given an instruction that they may not like, leave for lunch and not return. The society of the USA is doomed, IMHO.

  6. Trans ideology is a cancer that is killing this nation. It is an evil being foisted on us by powers of darkness and wickedness in the spiritual realms. Gender affirming care when given to minors is a crime against humanity – which is promoted by the unfathomably evil and demonized Biden administration, with its clown “Rachel” Levine (actually Richard Levine, a man). Biden bows and worships at the alter of a 24-year-old man named Dylan Mulvaney who is cynically reaping millions of dollars by dressing up as a woman and blatantly insulting all real women with his brain-dead antics. I stress Biden “administration” because Biden himself is senile with advanced dementia, the evil is perpetrated by his puppet masters who call the shots. “Gender affirming care” is a euphemism for butchering kids, chopping off their breasts, castrating them physically and chemically, and destroying their lives, when what they need is to escape social contagion by having a straight-shooting adult talk to them about their temporary confusion. The cancer has gotten into the hard tissue of even math and medical science, and it has now corrupted at least some federal appellate courts. In an evil and wicked regime, there are always a few bright spots, namely, those who bravely resist the evil. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany. America under Biden has become about as evil as that and we need the Bonhoffers of our age to be revealed to the public to stand against this darkness.

    Even some gays are starting to wake up to the reality that radical trans ideology is putting their own movements back decades:

  7. “These are admittedly difficult cases. On one hand, you have the religious beliefs… ” STOP, No there is NOTHING difficult about these cases. This is COMPELLED SPEECH. Shawnee State University is a PUBLIC school. Government CANNOT compel speech. Furthermore government can’t force people to suspend reality and play make-believe..

  8. Gee, all these “experts” think that not using pronouns cause harm to students. Well, tough sh*t, it creates overly coddled students who can’t tolerate dissent. The teacher isn’t bullying or harming, just not buying into the woke crap.

  9. Geez. And they say there is a teacher shortage and that people don’t want to go into teaching anymore. Seems like they are trying to ensure a shortage with garbage like this. Or, deliberately crash the system. An avatar won’t defy them and that’s exactly what they want.


  10. Horrific and ominous to see liberty of conscience less and less respected. Trampling religious freedom, like under Obama when businesses suffered retribution when refusing to participate in same sex weddings, is a clear violation of our Constitution. Read Revelation 18 to see how this national apostasy will finally end for our nation.

  11. NO ONE has any right to control what individuals say in the THIRD person! As for ‘your’ pronouns, the only pronouns you have any control over is “I,” “me,” and “you.” If none of those pronouns are present, you’re NOT IN THE CONVERSATION! Mind your own damn business.

  12. We depend way too much on the Supreme Court. The Founder’s did not design our system that way.

    1. There is no religious component to this issue. The pronoun freaks should be challenged on grammar and the English language. If any fringe group gets to demand that everyone else abandon the rules of the language, we become a Tower of Babel where communication and thus a functioning civil society is impossible.

      1. More like our Tower of Babel crumbles. We’re building our tower out of cell phones and social media and other such amorphous “things” that are not much more than hot air. Funny that it is all built on binary 1s and 0s–now all we can think in is polarized binaries.

        On a cheerier note, maybe a refresh of Schoolhouse Rock could set us back on the right track. Conjunction Junction could help us think in Ands perhaps and not just Ors.

        For Pronouns:

    2. Correct, one of the reasons you get so many idiotic decisions is because in far too many instances lower courts can not get simple constitutional or legal issues correct.

      I would suggest that when a court is reversed by the supreme court that the judge(s) involved must take a constitutional law exam based on say the top 100 supreme court precidents. If the judge can not score 90% correct on those precedents they should be suspended for 90 days and not reinstated until the can.

      1. Its because leftist judges are trying to legislate from the bench using their mentally ill ideology of crazy. But when it is so ridiculous that you can’t define a women as a women you are unqualified for any job let alone a Supreme Court Justice and therefore should not have the opportunity to up end society

    3. @bill

      Is it that we rely on them too much, or is it being that with every other aspect of our society being compromised, they are the last line of defense against very real and very present authoritarianism?

  13. “Taking offense” because someone else refuses to participate in your fantasy is not “harm.” The judge needs to be fired and disbarred.

    1. We are under no obligation to disregard visible physical and biological reality just because attending to the actual facts hurts someone’s feeling. As rational beings, our moral obligation is to base our positions on what is actually true in reality. When a 5 foot 6 inch 70 pound 14 year old female with sores of protein-calorie malnutrition presents on death’s doorstep with a chief complaint that she is “too fat”, physicians understand that she has a bodily dysmorphic delusion that is part of her disease of anorexia nervosa and refer her to life saving psychiatric therapy to treat her delusional belief. Proper medicine addresses reality, it does not treat delusions as real just because someone believes the delusion. It is the same for people with sexual identity delusions. Sex is clear cut – XX chromosomes = female, XY chromosome = male. If you are biological female in your chromosome you are biologically female in your genes, your hormones, your bone structure. Ditto for biological males being male through and through. A biological female may have a delusional belief that she is a male or wishes to be a male and may even pay a surgeon to mutilate her body to make the delusion seem real but in every cell of her body she is still an XX chromosome female. Similarly a biological male may have a delusional belief or a wish or a hope that he is a female but his Y chromosome dominates his cells and every one of them is a male cell. Reality rules.

      1. A biological female may have a delusional belief that she is a male or wishes to be a male . . . Similarly a biological male may have a delusional belief or a wish or a hope that he is a female . . .

        And that’s with actual dysphoria. What’s happening now is primarily social contagion and popularity seeking, which leads to life-changing decisions based on temporary phenomena. Jordan Peterson got kicked off Twitter (in the bad old days before Musk) for calling out doctors who got rich by butchering such children. But he was right. They use the “would you rather have a dead daughter or live son” deception to psychologically coerce parents to go along (assuming parental consent is even required).

        1. oldmanfromkansas:

          Exactly so. I would add that sole Dutch study used as the basis for the declaration that sex reassignment surgery and automatic affirmation reduces the risk of suicide was flawed. The study has never been successfully replicated. In addition, it cherry picked study participants, only using those who underwent rigorous psychological analysis, at a time before automatic affirmation. It has also come out that one of the participants died as a direct result of vaginoplasty. The oft-heard statement that puberty blockers are completely reversible is only partly true. Their effects of inhibiting androgens cease with the withdrawal of the drug, but the effects of muffling hormones, or adding others, are permanent. For example, blocking puberty in boys leads to the failure of genitals to develop to their normal size. A micro peni$, in extreme cases. This leaves too little tissue for the inversion of a vaginoplasty, which essentially creates an artificial orifice. The boy who died endured a vaginoplasty using colon tissue, which led to a fatal infection. Yet, this study has been used as the excuse to promote puberty blockers and sex reassignment surgery on minors.

          What has come out, as the transgender craze wears on year after year, is that even those who at first seem pleased with the results of their surgery often become disillusioned. The vaginoplasty does not produce a functioning female reproductive tract. It requires regular, invasive care forever, or the wound will close or become infected. As these poor people grow up, they discover that straight men do not, in fact, consider them actual women.

          Jazz was perhaps the most famous child to undergo sex reassignment, and is now an adult. Jazz had puberty blockers as a boy, which led to the failure of normal development of his genitals. His vaginoplasty at 17 years of age had multiple complications because of this. He has admitted that he has zero libido, and cannot experience $exual pleasure, a common consequence of puberty blockers. I watched a clip of Jazz this year, in which he was crying to his mother that he still didn’t feel like his real self. He still suffers from mental illness and anguish, years after the surgery. He’s gained significant weight as well, which is also common for castrated males. They are essentially modern eunuchs. The mother later got after him to use his dilator (to keep the vaginoplasty from closing years later), or she would insert it herself. Jazz is 22. This brings me to another tragic discovery about transgender. A higher proportion of minors who identify as transgender are the victims of sexual abuse, and they also often suffer from multiple mental illnesses. These people are fragile, and sometimes victims of abuse. Chemically or surgically castrating them, or otherwise ruining their bodies, is horrific. Jazz cited “severe mental health issues” and a 100 lb weight gain for her reasons for not going to Harvard. Yet, children’s books glorifying Jazz’s journey to becoming female are in many elementary schools and public libraries. Jazz should be a cautionary tale against automatic affirmation.

Leave a Reply