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Seminary Sued by Woman Allegedly Booted for Same-Sex Marriage

Nov. 21, 2019, 9:29 PM

Fuller Theological Seminary was hit with a lawsuit in California federal court Nov. 21 by a former graduate student who said she was expelled from the institution when administrators discovered she was married to a woman.

Joanna Maxon, a Christian woman who said she had hoped to use her seminary degree “to become a better supervisor” and to advance her career, brought her lawsuit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. She claims that, despite being a religious institution, Fuller accepts federal funding and doesn’t have a religious exemption under Title IX.

Maxon “did not see her expulsion coming,” according to Paul Carlos Southwick of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, her counsel.

“She was authentic with the university and was accepted by students and professors after she married her wife,” Southwick told Bloomberg Law via email. “A publicly funded institution should not be allowed to suddenly expel a student because of her same-sex marriage, especially one who has invested over three years of time and money completing her degree.”

Maxon claims her expulsion forced her to repay her federal loans prematurely and “reassess her professional goals.”

Fuller serves nearly 4,000 students from 90 countries, according to the seminary’s website.

Causes of Action: Title IX of the Education Amendments, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress

Relief: Declaration of Title IX and Unruh Civil Rights Act violations, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: In response to a quest for comment, Fuller said: “As a historically multi-denominational seminary and a convening place for civil dialogue—with a commitment to academic freedom—we strive to serve the global Christian church in its various perspectives. We remain committed to these relationships in all their complexities while maintaining community standards and a statement of faith that apply to various areas of beliefs and behavior. Students are informed of and explicitly agree to abide by these standards when applying to the institution.”

Attorneys: Maxon is represented by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

The case is Maxon v. Fuller Theological Seminary, C.D. Cal., No. 2:19-cv-09969, complaint filed 11/21/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dmcAfee@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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