The Legal Beat
Law School Faces Transgender Discrimination Lawsuit
Posted on Monday January 14, 2019
No one expects to go to law school and be discriminated against because of who they are as a person, but that’s exactly what one transgender law student claims happened to her during her first year of law school.
Shiloh Betancourt attended California Western School of Law as a 1L, where she alleges she was subjected to “rampant discrimination” from classmates, staff members, professors, and administrators, all because she’s a transgender woman.
NBC San Diego has some of the details alleged in Betancourt’s discimination suit:
According to the lawsuit, Betancourt says the discrimination began a few days after the January 2017 semester began when during a meeting with one of her professors, the professor asked her what her name was before she transitioned from male to female.
Referring to a person’s name before they transitioned is considered “deadnaming” and highly offensive in the transgender community because it invalidates their identity.
“Cal Western made an impression on me that the school was an LGBTQ-friendly institution,” Betancourt said. “But sadly, that was not my experience at the law school.” She claims that when she went to the school’s Diversity Services Office for help, she was told services weren’t provided for transgender students. To top it off, Betancourt says she heard her fellow students referring to her as a “he-she.” Betancourt goes on to allege the behavior of Susan Finster, the school’s assistant dean for student and diversity services, went beyond the pale with comments like this:
Betancourt filed a complaint, which she said was supposed to be confidential. Soon after, however, she says she discovered that her complaint had been shared with staff, resulting in additional mistreatment from other tutors as well as Finster.
One such incident allegedly occurred in February 2018. Betancourt wore a sweater and short skirt to school. When Finster saw her, she allegedly said, according to the lawsuit, “I know how you stay warm because my son also stays warm because he has a lot of testosterone.”
Betancourt said she was under the “impression that law school was a place where diversity was respected,” but her time at Cal Western proved otherwise. “It was my understanding that lawyers had a more sophisticated sense of respect for diversity and inclusion. But I was shocked to experience otherwise.”
No one should be treated like this, and the fact that Betancourt allegedly had to face an untenable situation like this is abhorrent. We can do better than this.
UPDATE (01/14/19): California Western Law has released a statement in response to coverage of the lawsuit filed by Shiloh Betancourt:
California Western School of Law is committed to providing a safe and nurturing learning environment that celebrates diversity and is inclusive of all students. We are proud of our LGBTQ students, staff and faculty and their contributions to the law school, the legal profession, the San Diego community and beyond.
California Western has strong policies in place to promote diversity and prohibit harassment or discrimination against employees or students on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or sexual identity.
California Western has established procedures in place to ensure that students, faculty and staff are aware of these policies, to provide all members of our community with a robust process for reporting any concerns about potential harassment or discrimination and for investigation of any such reports, and to respond promptly and effectively to any violations of Cal Western’s policies. The law school protects the privacy of individuals involved in a report of misconduct to the extent permitted by law and school policy.
California Western denies the allegations made in the civil complaint filed by former student Shiloh Bentacourt. The law school will defend its good name vigorously in response to her complaint and is confident that the evidence will show that it did not violate Ms. Bentacourt’s rights. California Western’s policy is not to comment on specific details of pending litigation, and therefore we will not comment further on Ms. Bentacourt’s claims.
California Western remains committed to maintaining the integrity of our excellent programs and fostering the security and well-being of all its students.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.