ACLU sues Gordon College on behalf of professor who disagreed with school's anti-LGBT policy

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, on behalf of tenured philosophy professor Lauren Barthold, is taking legal action against Gordon College for allegedly violating her right to free speech, as well as for retaliating against opposing discrimination and interfering with freedom of expression and association.

Jenks Library, Gordon College. Oct. 15, 2013. | Wikimedia Commons/Elizabeth B. Thomsen

"This case is important to preserving academic freedom and preventing the violation, in the name of religion, of important rights to be free from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace," said attorney Joshua Solomon, who is working with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

According to the private organization, Barthold publicly disagreed with the Christian college's bias against members of the LGBT community. They cited a letter signed by school president Michael Lindsay in July 2014 asking President Barrack Obama for an exemption to the executive order that prevents federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT work applicants on the basis of religion. This reportedly caused outrage among some students, faculty, and alumni. A petition against the request is said to have garnered almost 4,000 signatures.

"Many, many times over the years that I have worked here, I have asked myself whether I should quit in protest over this discriminatory policy," she wrote in a letter to The Salem News. "In the end, I concluded that my resignation (or even a handful of resignations) would do absolutely nothing to change the policy. I am convinced that change must primarily come from within."

Gordon College allegedly retaliated against Barthold, and threatened her with termination in May 2015. They backed off after receiving a letter from Barthold's attorney, but she was reportedly removed from leadership positions in the faculty, was denied her scheduled right to apply for promotion, and was removed from being director of the gender studies minor, as an imposed punishment.

"Although Gordon describes itself as a Christian liberal arts college, Gordon's faculty members like Lauren Barthold are not ministers, and Gordon is not a seminary or a house of worship," Solomon said. "It is a liberal arts college and is subject to Massachusetts laws prohibiting retaliation against its employees, including its faculty, who speak critically about important issues of the day."