SoCal district to pay $360K to teacher who was fired after refusing to follow transgender policies

A woman speaks at a microphone.
Jessica Tapia, who taught P.E. at Jurupa Valley High School, claimed in a lawsuit that her free speech and religious rights had been violated.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A Riverside County school district has agreed to pay $360,000 to settle a lawsuit from a former teacher who was fired last year after refusing to adhere to policies regarding transgender or gender-nonconforming students, citing her Christian beliefs.

Jessica Tapia, who taught physical education at Jurupa Valley High School, claimed in her wrongful termination lawsuit that her free speech and religious rights had been violated. She had refused — hypothetically, in statements to district personnel — to use students’ preferred pronouns, to allow them to use the locker room matching their gender identity, or to “withhold information” from parents about their child’s gender identity, according to the federal lawsuit.

The Jurupa Unified School District did not admit any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay Tapia $285,000, as well as $75,000 for her attorneys’ fees, according to the settlement agreement signed Tuesday. Tapia also agreed not to seek future employment with the district, and both sides agreed to not disparage each other or file future lawsuits.


Julianne Fleischer, one of Tapia’s attorneys, called the settlement an “incredible victory.”

“Her religious beliefs were not accommodated when they could have been,” said Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a Murrieta-based nonprofit religious liberties group. “We think it sends a strong message that there’s a price to pay when you ask a teacher to lie and withhold information.”

California courts will uphold, overturn or set ground rules for culture war battles in school districts over parent notification, book restrictions and even public records.

April 15, 2024

Jacquie Paul, a Jurupa Unified spokesperson, said the settlement was a “compromise of a disputed claim.”

“The decision to settle this case was made ... in the best interest of the students, such that the district can continue to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to educate and support its student population regardless of their protected class,” Paul said in a statement.

The case is just one of several lawsuits challenging how the rights of transgender students, their parents and teachers should be balanced — disputes that have formed the backbone of California’s education culture wars.

Under California’s anti-discrimination laws, federal and state laws, a transgender or gender-nonconforming student’s identity should not be shared, including with their parents, without the student’s permission, according to the California Department of Education.


But in Tapia’s case, her attorneys argued there was never an instance when she didn’t abide by school and state policies, because it never came up in her tenure.

State officials had ordered the district to drop its parent-notification policy — and administrators were going to comply — but the school board is rebelling.

April 19, 2024

Instead, her termination stemmed from several of her social media posts, which students found offensive and reported for their content about transgender people and religion. When school officials asked her to curb her social media activity and agree to follow certain district policies regarding transgender students’ privacy and rights, she refused, citing her Christian beliefs.

Tapia requested a religious accommodation, saying the district’s policies went against her beliefs “regarding human sexuality and lying,” according to her lawsuit.

Fleischer said her organization has respect for the transgender community, but this case affirms that “religious rights are not second class.”

Paul said the district will “continue to follow all local, state and federal laws, including laws against harassment and discrimination to protect its students and employees.”

LGBTQ+ students face growing challenges across many school districts — here are students’ rights and protections.

Aug. 16, 2023

Tapia was hired by the district in 2014, first as a substitute and later full time, and taught both middle school and high school physical education. She was fired in January 2023, according to the lawsuit.


Tapia publicly supported a bill last year that would have required teachers to disclose to parents if their child was gender-nonconforming or transgender. That bill has since died in committee.

She is now helping lead Advocates for Faith & Freedom’s new campaign called “Teachers Don’t Lie,” to support other educators who feel their faith is being compromised by school policies.