A 25-year-old middle school teacher in the US state of New York was fired after a topless selfie she took was nonconsensually obtained by a student at her school. The teacher, Lauren Miranda, is now in the process of suing the school district for gender discrimination.
Miranda took the photo herself and says that she only shared it with a teacher in the district with whom she previously had a relationship, and had never shown or shared the photo with any student. According to Miranda’s notice of claim (a precursor to a lawsuit), the South Country Central School District failed to conduct a sufficient investigation before they terminated Miranda, telling her that she was no longer a “role model” for students.
“What message is that saying to the girls who have their photos airdropped all over the high school and sent all over?” Miranda told WABC earlier this week. “What message are we sending to them? To roll over when your picture gets exposed without your permission or consent? So how am I now not being a role model to them?”
The male teacher with whom Miranda shared the photo was not penalised by school administrators. It is not known what role the male teacher may have played in the student obtaining Miranda’s selfie.
The claim states that the school district and employees “objectify women” as well as “irrationally, wrongfully regard their physical appearance and depiction of their physical appearance of their upper bodies as inherently lascivious, and/or perverse and/or inherently offensive and shameful and prurient, by reason of the fact that they are women.” Photos of bare male upper bodies do not, the claim states, trigger disciplinary action.
The school administration became aware of the selfie in January, according to the complaint, and Miranda was put on leave with pay that month and ultimately fired in March. John Ray, the attorney representing Miranda, told Gizmodo that the school administrators blew the photo up on a screen “with all these men in the room” in an effort to “humiliate her and intimidate her.” They then called her back in front of the superintendent who informed her that, because the students would be able to view the photo, he would recommend that her employment be terminated.
Last week, after Miranda was fired, the school board voted to hire an independent investigator to look into the claims of gender discrimination, according to Ray. “Now this is ridiculous,” he said. “They fire her first and investigate later. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s clearly a pretext to cover themselves for what they did.”
In a letter to the school district, Miranda is demanding that it reinstate her position as a maths teacher. If they refuse to do so, she is seeking $3 million (£2.3 million) in damages and attorney fees.
The South Country School District did not immediately respond to our request to comment on Miranda’s claims.
The office of Miranda’s attorney also provided Gizmodo with a copy of her teacher performance evaluation, which states that she had received outstanding performance reviews across the board. However, it’s important to note that while Miranda was viewed by administration as a “highly effective teacher,” one’s success at their job shouldn’t account for how they were treated by administration—or shamed—for being a victim of revenge porn.
It’s still unclear how at least one student obtained the selfie, but Miranda’s assertion that she only shared it consensually with one other adult should have flagged to the school administration that she is potentially a victim of revenge porn—in which someone’s sexually explicit images are distributed without their consent. Instead, they disciplined her, fired her, and allegedly attempted to shame her without a good-faith investigation into how the photo was spread.
This situation isn’t unique to Miranda. In 2014, the principal of Robert F. Wagner Jr. Institute for Arts &Technology in Queens, New York, was demoted to a teaching position and had her pay cut in half after her ex-boyfriend uploaded stolen photos of her in her lingerie onto a Department of Education laptop, which was then given to the superintendent and city investigators. The woman, Annie Seifullah, penned an op-ed about the experience for Jezebel last year, stating that she was escorted out of the school before an investigation and taken place, and that even though it ultimately found that the photos were distributed nonconsensually as an act of abuse, the school district punished her through these demotions.
“The fear of being a victim of nonconsensual pornography can be so pervasive that it has a negative impact on the number of women in leadership positions,” Seifullah wrote. “Victims may also face immense difficulty finding new jobs. If they are employed, they may quit because of the emotional stress of having to face co-workers after the incident or the risk of further harassment by colleagues who saw the photographs.”
Featured image: Samantha Starr