Teacher Sues Chicago Schools, Saying He Was Fired Over His Memoir
Luis Aguilera probably thought he'd left his childhood affair with a teacher behind. After all, it happened when he was 13, and his memoir, in which he recounts details of the relationship, was published over a decade ago. But Aguilera believes that he was fired from his own teaching post in 2009 because a parent had concerns about the book. Now he's suing the Chicago public school district for more than $300,000.
Aguilera's memoir, "Gabriel's Fire," is based on his childhood journal entries, according to the Amazon book description. It deals with coming-of-age on Chicago's South Side as a Mexican immigrant, and includes anecdotes about facing the threats of gangs and drugs, his experience as a minority in a Polish neighborhood, and his affair with an elementary school teacher. The librarian at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, where Aguilera was a Spanish teacher, obtained a copy of the book at some unknown point, according to the lawsuit.
In January 2009, a parent expressed concerns about her daughter's relationship with Aguilera because of his book, according to the lawsuit. The school's principal allegedly convened a conference with the parent and other administrators. That same day, the librarian allegedly told Aguilera that the principal had banned students from accessing the book in the library.
A few days later, Aguilera was pulled out of the classroom and transferred to an administrative position in what he calls the "Rubber Room," according to his attorney Deidre Baumann, whose practice focuses on civil rights, employment discrimination and constitutional law. "It was a place where he wasn't permitted to do what he loves to do."
In December of that year, Aguilera was terminated for unspecified misconduct/unsatisfactory performance. Aguilera then filed charges with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which has to investigate any claims of discrimination before anyone can file them in a federal court.
The department hasn't finished investigating Aguilera's claims, but because of the two-year statute of limitations, Aguilera has gone ahead and filed his lawsuit, which accuses the Chicago public schools of firing him as illegal retaliation against his constitutionally protected free speech.
Aguilera is seeking compensation in excess of $300,000, punitive damages, back pay and benefits, attorney's fees, and the reinstatement of his job. "The Chicago Board of Education has historically been unwilling to address the concerns of their teachers, once they decide that they want to get rid of someone for proper or improper reasons," says Baumann. That is, she adds, until they get handed a lawsuit.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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