A judge has ruled that a federal civil rights lawsuit can proceed on behalf of a former Bellport Middle School teacher alleging discrimination when she was fired after a student obtained her topless selfie.
The $20 million lawsuit filed in April 2019 by Lauren Miranda, 27, of Mastic Beach, claims the South Country Central School District discriminated against her because she is a woman.
“They lost a major teachable moment on how you treat people and how we are supposed to stand up for women and for their equality,” Miranda said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan of the Eastern District of New York ruled Thursday that portions of the lawsuit accusing the school district of violating Miranda’s civil rights and discriminating against her because of her gender can proceed. Cogan dismissed parts of the lawsuit against the district and other officials.
Miranda’s attorney, John Ray, of Miller Place, hailed Cogan’s decision as a victory for women’s rights as well as millennials, who are more comfortable with nudity and sharing photos than previous generations.
“This is groundbreaking because nowhere in the United States has a judge ever ruled on this issue before,” Ray said. “Judge Cogan did the right thing in recognizing that this case, this brand new type of case, has validity. You cannot pick on a woman anymore because her breasts are treated any differently than a man’s breasts.”
A spokeswoman for the school district did not return calls for comment.
Miranda’s lawsuit says she took the topless selfie on her cellphone several years ago and sent it to her boyfriend, who was also a teacher at the school. Miranda said she had not sent the photo to anyone else and did not know how the student obtained the photo.
The male teacher was not disciplined, according to Miranda’s lawsuit.
Miranda said she did not think she would be fired before meeting with Superintendent Joseph Giani and other district officials about the photo in January 2019.
“Just based on how hard I work and the nature of the situation, I really didn’t think that it was going to end up the way it did,” Miranda said. “I was extremely intimidated throughout the meeting.”
Miranda said she feared her termination would effectively end her teaching career. She is now a math teacher at a charter high school in New York City, she said.
“You spend your whole life looking forward to getting your dream job and getting your own classroom,” she said. “I really didn’t think I could continue.”