CINCINNATI — Lakota Local School District paid $175,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a longtime teacher who claimed she was illegally suspended for standing up for transgender students.
School board officials signed the settlement in April, agreeing to pay $75,000 from board funds and $100,000 from The Netherlands Insurance Company to Emily Osterling, a former intervention specialist at Liberty Junior High.
Osterling filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati against Lakota’s school board in September 2018 after it voted to place her on administrative leave and begin termination proceedings based on “flimsy and retaliatory allegations,” the lawsuit states.
In late 2017 as the school board was considering adopting a policy on gender identity, Osterling spoke at many public meetings advocating for the rights of transgender students.
“Plaintiff’s opinions were not popular with several board members,” according to the lawsuit.
In December 2017 the school board voted down a policy that would have allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to their gender identity, use preferred names on official records and address their privacy concerns.
"This is by no means over," Osterling said at the 2017 meeting. "Transgender students are not going away."
Afterward school officials began building a “case” to terminate her teaching contract, despite high performance reviews and never having been the subject of any disciplinary action whatsoever during her lengthy employment at the school district, according to the lawsuit.
Osterling has been a prominent Lakota teachers union official and a National Education Association (NEA) board member and co-chair of the NEA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.
"Ms. Osterling will receive a payment from the district of $75,000, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of her pay and benefits for the 2018/2019 school year. An additional payment was agreed to by the district’s insurance company in order to resolve the remaining claims," according to a prepared statement from school district spokeswoman Betsy Fuller. "The Board is happy to have this matter closed so that it, its administration and its teachers may have their focus on providing our Lakota students with a dynamic and engaging educational experience."
Osterling wanted her job back. But as part of the settlement, she submitted a letter of resignation on March 26, 2019 but made it effective as of Sept. 4, 2018 – the day the board voted to begin termination proceedings.
She was hired at the school in 2001 and promoted to chair of her department in 2013. She earned $73,788 annually.
“My students have given me great pleasure over the years, and it has been incredibly rewarding watching them learn and develop," Osterling wrote in her resignation letter. "I have enjoyed serving the community during my tenure with the school district."
The settlement contains a confidentially clause which forbids discussion about the case. WCPO obtained the settlement agreement through a public records request.