Portland, Oregon: Last week, Life Legal Defense Foundation filed an employment discrimination complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Bill Diss, the Portland teacher whose outspoken pro-life views led to his termination from employment.
“LLDF stands with Mr. Diss and intends to pursue every appropriate legal measure in his support,” states Dana Cody, LLDF’s President and Executive Director. “While this is only the beginning, we trust that Mr. Diss will ultimately be vindicated, and that future, well-qualified teachers will not be subjected to discipline and termination from employment for their religious and moral beliefs.”
Background: Bill Diss has taught Technology, Math, Computers and Electronics at Benson High School since 2002. He also taught several classes at the community college level and is highly regarded in his profession by both by students, parents, and fellow teachers. Mr. Diss is the only teacher in the state of Oregon who has been certified to teach college level computer science to high school students for dual credit. His initiative and hard work have attracted outside grants to Benson High School, opening up even greater opportunities for students. For the first five years at Benson, Mr. Diss was rated as proficient or better, with numerous positive compliments in his reviews. Mr. Diss’ methodology and teaching style has remained substantially the same in all his years of teaching.
The positive reviews took a dramatic change for the worse, however, when Mr. Diss began to speak out in opposition to the building of a new Planned Parenthood facility in downtown Portland. Mr. Diss was involved in opposition activities on his own time and did not bring his political or religious convictions into his instruction in the classroom. Nonetheless, he began to experience complaints about his political activities from school administrators and his teaching came under sudden, rigorous scrutiny. Complaints, negative evaluations, letters of reprimand and formal meetings became a regular part of Mr. Diss’ life at school for as long as he engaged in outspoken, public opposition to Planned Parenthood.
Shortly after the start of the 2012-2013 school year, presenters with the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) came to Mr. Diss’ tutorial classes to give a presentation recruiting students for the TOP program. When presenters entered the tutorial, Mr. Diss—consistent with district policy—asked for identification. He was handed a card that identified the presenters as employees of Planned Parenthood. This information surprised Mr. Diss and caused him serious emotional distress due to his well-known personal religious convictions and his years of work to oppose that organization. He expressed his dilemma to Benson Principal Carol Campbell at the time and asked to be excused from the presentation due to his religious convictions. His request was denied. He was told that he would be required to be present for the TOP presentation. Through the remainder of the school year during which he taught, Mr. Diss continued to have to deal with Planned Parenthood staff as they administered the TOP program.
Simultaneous to his request not to be involved with TOP, Mr. Diss’ teaching came under rigorous review. Mr. Diss accepted the input from school administration, but the year proved to be extremely stressful, including numerous classroom observations and meetings with school administration. On March 19, 2013, school administrators summarily demanded that Mr. Diss leave the school premises and not return—placing him on paid administrative leave. Mr. Diss was told to leave the school and was escorted off the premises by a police officer. This unnecessary show of force is symbolic of the animus faced by Mr. Diss throughout the year. On Monday, December 16, 2013 the school board for the Portland Public School District voted to terminate Mr. Diss’ contract to teach despite well-documented departures from statutorily mandated pre-termination procedures and the evidence of bias and religious discrimination as outlined above.