In Naragon v. Wharton, 572 F. Supp 1117 (1983), Naragon defends her conduct by showing that the student has never been in her class.  Was there an invasion of privacy by the employer?  Why or why...

In Naragon v. Wharton, 572 F. Supp 1117 (1983), Naragon defends her conduct by showing that the student has never been in her class.  Was there an invasion of privacy by the employer?  Why or why not?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The legal issues in Kristine Naragon v. James H. Wharton, Ph.D., et. al., do not involve the question of whether the plaintiff, Ms. Naragon, was the victim of a violation of her Fourth Amendment “right to privacy.”  As the documents from the initial 1983 decision rendered by the U.S. District Court for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the subsequent 1984 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the links to which are provided below, attest, at issue in Naragon v. Wharton,, was the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights of speech and association.  The plaintiff’s romantic relationship with a college freshman, including cohabitation in conflict with the wishes of the student’s parents, is the underlying issue.  Ms. Naragon’s lawsuit against Louisiana State University is predicated entirely upon the notion that she was the target of retaliatory actions – specifically, having her graduate assistantship changed from one of teaching to one of research – due solely to her sexual orientation.  Naragon’s council argued that the plaintiff’s homosexuality was the cause of the change in the nature of her responsibilities as a graduate student.  University officials, on the other hand, argued that the plaintiff demonstrated poor judgment in pursuing the relationship with a freshman student irrespective or sexual orientation and that such judgment reflected poorly on the institution.  In the initial trial, the president judge ruled against the plaintiff.  The subsequent appeal resulted in an identical outcome.  In denying the plaintiff, Ms. Naragon’s, allegations of discriminatory treatment, the U.S. Court of Appeals concluded the following:

“. . .it is the opinion of the Court that under the circumstances of this case, the plaintiff has not been illegally discriminated against, and that none of her constitutionally protected rights have been violated by the University. Her demand for injunctive and other relief must be denied, and a judgment will be entered accordingly.”

Because the question filed with eNotes is specific to the issue of “privacy,” an answer is purely speculative on the part of this educator.  Kristine Naragon’s homosexuality was not demonstrated to be an issue with respect to the university’s actions regarding her status as a graduate assistant.  That her sexual orientation was known to anybody but herself was purely a result of her own actions, in effect, initiating a relationship with a student of the same gender, including cohabitation, and publicly and vocally defending that relationship, including in confrontations on university grounds with the student’s parents, as well as at a shopping mall.  Ms. Naragon’s sexual orientation is her own business, but public knowledge of that orientation was entirely a product of her own actions, and there is no evidence that she intended her sexual orientation to be a secret.  In short, there is no basis upon which to suggest that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

The fact that the student had not attended any of Ms. Naragon’s classes might detract from any notion that the relationship constituted a conflict of interest on the part of the plaintiff, but the issue of Naragon’s judgment is a valid concern for those responsible for operating an institution of higher learning.  She was not denied a graduate assistantship; she was merely reassigned from teaching to research, with no reduction in benefits or compensation.  One could, consequently, logically argue that the university was actually quite restrained in its response to her relationship with the freshman student, who was a minor at the time the relationship was initiated.