EUGENE, Ore. — An Oregon court held that a former performer, who alleged discrimination during her time at a nursing school after staff found out about her adult work from a decade earlier, could move forward with her Title IX claim against the institution.
Magistrate Judge Mustafa T. Kasubhai, sitting for the District of Oregon, held at the summary judgment stage that Nicole Gililland — who left the nursing program and is currently enrolled in law school in Massachusetts — could move forward with her action against Southwestern Oregon Community College because discrimination against sex workers may fall under “sex discrimination” under Title IX.
Judge Kasubhai’s order was prompted by a motion for summary judgment introduced by the defendants, which included the school but also the individual staffers Gililland alleged pressured her to leave the program after they learned about her sex worker past.
Gililland alleges that, in 2017, one of the staffers told her she could not be a nurse because she was an “unclassy woman” and that records were altered to make her flunk out of the nursing program where she had been excelling.
A 'Landmark Case' for Sex Worker Rights
Gililland is currently represented by attorney Brandon Mark, of Parsons Behle & Latimer.
According to a sex worker rights legal expert, Gililland v. Southwestern Oregon Community College, et al. could be seen as “a landmark case.”
“This ruling is a historic victory for sex worker rights and will likely be expanded upon in years to come,” New Jersey's Zeff Law Firm, which specializes in sex worker discrimination claims and is linked to the NJ Red Umbrella Alliance, opined through its legal blog.
Like many sex workers, the Zeff Law Firm post explained, Gililland “changed careers and sought to make a new life for herself. Unfortunately, after staff members of the college became aware of Gililland’s previous line of work, they started treating her unfairly including grading her work differently than other students and falsely accusing her of plagiarism. When asked why, one faculty member told Gililland ‘it takes a classy woman to be a nurse, and unclassy women’ — while pointing at Gililland — ‘shouldn’t be nurses.’ After the college expelled Gililland for ‘receiving’ failing grades, Gililland initiated her lawsuit arguing among other things that the college violated federal prohibitions on sex discrimination in education (also known as Title IX).”
Gililland’s legal claim, the post continued, was that “the college’s behavior was ‘gender stereotyping’ her. The college, in turn, contended that Gililland was not protected by Title IX because her ‘employment history is not a protected status.’ Further, the college put forth that gender stereotyping only applied to LGBTQ+ cases of discrimination and should not be used to support Gililland’s claim of sex discrimination.”
Judge Kasubhai granted the individual defendants — the staffers — summary judgement against being liable under Title IX, but crucially did not grant the summary judgement to Southwestern Oregon Community College, allowing for the case to move forward.
The “heart of this analysis,” the judge wrote, was about “the kind of woman” that the college perceived Gililland to be “because of her employment history.”
Judge Kasubhai also found the alleged discrimination “intrinsically connected” to Gililland’s former sex worker status and that staffer Melissa Sperry’s alleged comment about “unclassy women” advanced “a stereotype about the kind of woman appropriate for the nursing profession.”
A jury, the judge continued, could determine that staff “relied on Plaintiff’s prior employment as an adult film actress to conclude that she was an ‘unclassy’ woman unfit to be a nurse.”
Nicole Gililland Speaks
“This case has involved a lot of serious miscarriages of justice from the beginning,” Gililland — who has become involved in sex worker rights advocacy and activism during her years-long fight against the Oregon nursing school — told XBIZ.
“Every failsafe to protect me as a citizen and student had failed me," she continued. "This is the first real example of ethics and reason being applied to what has happened, and it has given me a renewed sense of hope in the system.”
Gililland also said she hopes her case serves as a warning “against cronyism.”
“There is absolutely no reason a teacher should have been allowed to create so much chaos and destruction. We need to bring accountability and principles of basic ethics back,” she said.
“The evidence clearly showed that Melissa Sperry targeted me after learning I had a history that I was worried could hurt me, a history that made her deem me an ‘unclassy woman,’” Gililland said.
Gililland also told XBIZ that her attorney Brandon Mark “has been an absolute blessing. I spoke to hundreds of lawyers, and had that many doors slammed in my face. This is why I chose to go to law school, so I could become the person I needed. Brandon is brilliant and has also been such a mentor to me as a law student.”
Main Image: Nicole Gililland in 2021, courtesy Gililland.