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Iowa OKs settlement in suit sparked by 4H inclusion policy

Associated Press
Plaintiff Chaisson-Cárdenas says he was adamant that 4-H should be for all kids including those identifying as LGBTQ.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A state panel on Monday approved a settlement between Iowa State University and a former Iowa 4-H director who was fired after a dispute over a proposed policy he supported that discouraged discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.

The settlement with John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas calls for the state to pay out $550,000. Of that money, $60,000 will go to Chaisson-Cárdenas, $270,000 will go into an annuity for his benefit and $220,000 will go to Iowa civil rights attorney Roxanne Conlin, who represented him.

The settlement approved by the State Appeal Board also changes Chaisson-Cárdenas' departure in university records from a termination to a voluntary resignation.

Chaisson-Cárdenas was fired Aug. 2, 2018, months after conservative groups criticized and LGBT groups supported a suggested 4-H LGBTQ inclusion policy. The dispute resulted in hundreds of comments submitted to Iowa 4-H, court documents said.

The proposed policy would have allowed transgender 4-H members to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and overnight accommodations that correspond to their gender identity.

Just days after Iowa officials posted a draft of the policy, an official with the federal department that administers 4-H — the National Institute of Food and Agriculture — sent an email urging the policy to be dropped.

Iowa 4-H officials were also pressured to drop the policy by Christian conservative leaders, and one group threatened to file a lawsuit.

Chaisson-Cárdenas, the first Latino statewide youth 4-H leader, resisted because he was adamant that 4-H should be for all kids.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2019, alleged harassment and discrimination on the basis of race and national origin and retaliation.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson told the State Appeal Board that a trial to resolve the case would have been more costly. 

"We think it's in the best interest of not only the state general fund but Iowa State as an institution to go ahead and approve this settlement and move forward," he said.