At the start of the term at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School in Arlington, Tex., last year, Stacy Bailey, an art teacher, introduced herself to her new fourth grade students with a slide show of her life.
There were photographs of her family, friends and childhood. There was also one of her partner of seven years, Julie Vazquez, who Ms. Bailey explained was her future wife. They were dressed in fish costumes from the film “Finding Nemo.”
That image set off a sequence of reactions from parents and school district officials that Ms. Bailey, 31, says amount to discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in federal court in Dallas. She says her career was damaged when she was accused of showing inappropriate images to children, put on leave and told she would be transferred.
All for one main reason, the lawsuit says: “Plaintiff is lesbian/gay and was born that way.”
The Mansfield Independent School District, named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with two district officials, sees it differently.
“There has never been an issue with her open sexual orientation until this year,” the district said in a statement. “That’s when her actions in the classroom changed, which prompted her students to voice concerns to their parents.”
It said the issue was whether Ms. Bailey had followed district guidelines that require “controversial subjects be taught in ‘an impartial and objective manner.’ Teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal belief regarding political or sectarian issues.”
It denied the allegations of discrimination and said the district has been an “inclusive, supportive environment for LGBT staff for decades.”
Ms. Bailey has been a teacher at the elementary school since 2008, and she was voted teacher of the year twice during that time. On Tuesday, she appeared silently with Ms. Vazquez, who is now her wife, at a news conference with her lawyer, Jason Smith, to announce the legal action. She is seeking a jury trial, reinstatement at the school and possible damages.
Ms. Vazquez said in an interview on Thursday that since Ms. Bailey was placed on paid administrative leave in September, she has been instructed by the district not to speak about the case or attend events on school grounds.
“The isolation is extremely heartbreaking,” Ms. Vazquez said. “She has really missed out.”
The lawsuit says that shortly after Ms. Bailey gave the slide show presentation at the end of August, the principal told her that a parent had complained she was promoting a “homosexual agenda” in class. The principal told her he did not believe she had done anything wrong, the lawsuit says.
Ms. Bailey was told the same parent had complained after she spoke to her class about the artist Jasper Johns, and mentioned that the students had just learned in the previous term about his partner, the artist Robert Rauschenberg.
Kimberly Cantu, an assistant superintendent and one of the defendants, told Ms. Bailey that the parent had said Ms. Bailey had shown the children “sexually inappropriate” images, according to the lawsuit. It also says other parents made complaints after they were “enlisted” by the first one.
Ms. Bailey was asked to resign in October but she refused, the lawsuit says.
Some parents and community members have been supportive of the couple, Ms. Vazquez said.
Mr. Smith, the lawyer, said the case highlights a cultural divide in the district, which lies between Dallas and Fort Worth.
“Local leaders tend to be old Mansfield, while the population is tending to be more diverse,” he said.
“She used age-appropriate terms,” he said, describing Ms. Bailey’s classroom presentation. “She never used the term ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian.’ She used the term, ‘this is my future wife.’ She never talked about sex or anything inappropriate.”
Ms. Vazquez said she and Ms. Bailey have been together since 2011 and were married in March.
“The whole situation is just a little mind-boggling,” she said. “The bottom line is that our family has a right to talk about our family just the same as any other family.”
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