The judge on Monday rejected former music teacher John Kluge’s allegations of religious discrimination and retaliation by the Brownsburg Community School Corporation.
Kluge worked at Brownsburg High School, on the edge of the Indianapolis metro area, from 2014 until June 2018, when his resignation was accepted.
According to court filings, faculty during meetings in early 2017 began talking about transgender students and “how teachers can encourage and support them.”
Kluge was one of four teachers who presented the principal with a signed letter expressing religious objections to transgenderism. Kluge stated that, because of his Christian faith, he believed it would be a sin to “encourage students in transgenderism.”
In May 2017, the district adopted a policy that, among other things, required all staff to refer to students by their chosen name as listed in the school records. A student could change that official name with letters of support from a parent and a health care professional.
The teachers who had joined Kluge in writing the letter accepted the name policy, but Kluge did not, the court filing said. He proposed that he would call all students only by last name, and administrators agreed to that.
But during the following school year, the principal began hearing concerns from staff and students about Kluge’s use of last names. Some said he was inconsistent, calling some students by first names or using “Miss” or “Mr.” Others said he avoided calling on or talking to transgender students altogether. And some transgender students said they felt awkward in his class because “all the students knew why Mr. Kluge had switched to using last names.”
The principal met with Kluge in December 2017 and told him the last-name practice was “creating tension in the students and faculty” and that it might be good for him to resign at the end of the year. In February 2018, he was told definitively that he could not continue the practice. Again in March, he was told to use chosen first names, resign or be terminated.
On April 30, Kluge gave the human resources director with a formal resignation but asked that it be kept confidential until the end of the school year. A month later, he said he was withdrawing his resignation — but at a meeting in June, the board approved it nonetheless.
Kluge filed suit claiming that the district had retaliated against him and had forced him out by refusing to accommodate his religious beliefs.
In granting the district’s motion for summary judgment, the judge, Jane Magnus-Stinson, rejected Kluge’s argument, concluding that “any contention that Mr. Kluge’s resignation was coerced through misrepresentation is wholly without merit” and that Kluge did not show evidence that he had proposed an alternative accommodation after being told the last names would not work.
The judge also concluded that a public school corporation “has an obligation to meet the needs of all of its students, not just a majority of students or the students that were unaware of or unbothered by Mr. Kluge’s practice of using last names only.”