She was fired Nov. 3 after she would not agree to treat the child as a male and call the child by a new male name, according to a copy of a filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided by her attorneys.
An educator this week filed a federal discrimination complaint against a learning center in Katy, alleging that she was wrongly fired for refusing to address a 6-year-old girl as a transgender boy, the teacher's attorneys said Tuesday.
Madeline Kirksey, a former employee of the Children's Lighthouse Learning Center on Clay Road in Katy, was fired Nov. 3 after she would not agree to treat the child as a male and call the child by a new male name, according to a copy of a filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided by her attorneys.
Kirksey had served as the Kids Club manager for the local franchise since August 2014, which involved overseeing nearly 100 kids, said Briscoe Cain, an attorney representing Kirksey. Her firing occurred the same day that voters repealed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO.
Another of Kirksey's attorneys, Andy Taylor, who also represented the plaintiffs who challenged HERO when it was passed by the Houston City Council, pointed to her protected class as a black female over age 40 who holds religious convictions. He said that her "essence" had been violated. "All of those rights were not vindicated but destroyed," Taylor said at a morning news conference.
In brief remarks, Kirksey said she took offense first because of her beliefs. "I trust God," the Houston resident said.
A spokesman for Children's Lighthouse Learning Centers, which operates franchise locations in multiple states, said by phone Tuesday that he could not comment on matters related to employment. But when pressed by a reporter on whether Kirksey was terminated over her handling of a transgender student, the spokesman said no.
"What's unfortunate here is that a teacher who was fired from a school for a variety of issues decided to call a news station," said the spokesman, Jamie Izaks. "... This teacher had an agenda behind it and was very opportunistic with a recent vote and discussion in Houston."
The learning center franchises, first established in Fort Worth, provide child care for kids ranging from six weeks old to age 13. Those between 6 and 13 are typically in an after-school program, rather than full-day, Izaks said.
The company promotes itself online as "the leading values-based educational child care system in the U.S." Izaks said the schools are accepting of all religions and have a reputation for nurturing and raising great students.
Taylor stressed that the child had been attending the school since the start of classes as a "little girl."
Using fake names, Taylor said that the child left school Friday as "Sally" and returned on Monday going by "Johnny."
"They had a real issue on their hands," Taylor said of the school staff.
The child reportedly showed up Monday with a short haircut, and Taylor said the child's gender identity wasn't set in stone. He said the child continued to use the girls' bathroom. The 6-year-old also played football with the boys and, when hit hard, cried and said, "I'm really not a little boy."
Taylor likened the imposition of such a decision over gender on a child to "child abuse." At such a young age, he said, kids haven't even decided what ice cream or cereal they prefer.
As such, the attorney praised Kirksey for standing up not only because of religious reasons but also to protect the child from ridicule and to keep the other children at the school in mind who would have been "mightily" confused.
Other children might have thought of the student's announcement that her gender had changed as a "cruel game of opposite day," Taylor said.
The issue of how to respond to young kids who announce they are transgender in a classroom is not one limited to the Katy area, Taylor noted.
"It's time to take a stand, to push back," he said.
Of the pertinence of the case nationwide, Cain said: "We'd be blindfolding ourselves if we were to say this was an isolated incident."
The Houston ISD prohibits discrimination against students based on gender identity and expression.
Learning Center teachers are trained to respond appropriately to students who present a variety of issues at school, Isaks said. "One day they think they're a super hero, the next day they think they're the king of the world," the spokesman said. "... You need to be prepared for everything."
The EEOC enforces federal discrimination laws on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. A spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny that the complaint had been filed. Lawyers said they plan soon to file a second complaint on behalf of a bus driver for the school who was also recently fired.