Judge rules against former Indiana teacher who said he was forced to resign for refusing to call trans students by chosen names

A former Indiana teacher who refused to call transgender students by their chosen name and said he was forced to resign over his stance has lost his legal battle.

On Monday, a federal judge rejected claims by John Kluge, a former music teacher at Brownsburg High School, who alleged he was discriminated against by the Brownsburg Community School Corporation.

Kluge started working at the school in 2014. But in June 2018 he was “forced to resign after refusing to refer to transgender students by the names selected by the students, their parents, and their healthcare providers due to his religious objections to affirming transgenderism,’ according to court documents.

He filed a lawsuit against BSCS claiming “discrimination based on failure to accommodate his religious beliefs” as well as “retaliation.”

In early 2017, school faculty and staff began talks on how teachers could support and encourage transgender students. In May of that year, Kluge and three other teachers signed a letter expressing their “religious objections to transgenderism.”

In the the letter the four teachers specifically asked that “faculty and staff not be required to refer to transgender students using their preferred pronouns and that transgender students not be permitted to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice.”

But according to the school’s newly implemented name policy, trans students were allowed to change their first names, gender markers and the pronouns used to refer to them.

While the other three teachers who signed the letter agreed to the policy, Kluge did not. Instead, he proposed that he would call all students only by last name, and administrators agreed to that.

However, during the school year the principal began hearing multiple complaints about Kluge’s use of last names. The self-described  “professing evangelical Christian” would occasionally “slip up” and use students’ first names, or gender honorifics, such as “Mr.” or “Miss.”

The principal met with Kluge later that year and told him that he was “creating tension” for students and faculty members. In March 2018 he was given three choices: he could use students’ chosen first names, resign or be terminated.

The following month he gave the school a formal resignation letter, but later withdrew it. But in June, the board approved it nonetheless.

Kluge then sued, arguing that the district “discriminated against him by refusing to accommodate his sincerely held religious beliefs.”

On Monday, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, rejected his argument, writing that “any contention that Mr. Kluge’s resignation was coerced through misrepresentation is wholly without merit.”

Additionally, Kluge failed to show evidence that he had proposed an alternative accommodation after he was told the last names would not work, the judge said.