Active: Federal lawsuit challenges discriminatory reimbursement program

Tyler Lynn has been teaching in Oregon public schools for more than 20 years. He is bilingual and teaches Spanish and English language development to students of all backgrounds. He is proud of his students and is committed to treating every young person with dignity and respect, no matter their race. He expects the same treatment from the government. 

Oregon could use a lesson from Tyler. Unlike how Tyler treats his students, the state treats its teachers differently based on their race. 

Like every teacher in Oregon, Tyler has to renew his teaching license every five years, most recently in July 2021. To offset the $192 renewal fees, Tyler turned to the state’s new Diversity License Expense Reimbursement Program. The program reimburses select teachers for the costs of obtaining or renewing licenses. Tyler unfortunately discovered he is not one of them. 

The online application’s eligibility requirements asked if he was a “diverse educator,” defined by state law as racial minorities and non-native English speakers. Tyler, who is white and speaks English, clicked “No” and was told he did not qualify. 

The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the agency responsible for administering the program, denied Tyler reimbursement solely based on his race. The discriminatory requirements, implemented in 2020 to comply with Oregon’s Student Success Act of 2019, aim to align the race of educators with the racial composition of students in public schools. 

Despite Tyler’s significant contributions to promoting diversity in his classroom and enhancing his students’ appreciation for other cultures through teaching Spanish, the state denied him a benefit solely because he has the wrong skin color. 

This discriminatory treatment against long-serving and devoted teachers like Tyler is even more concerning in Oregon, where teacher shortages are rampant and bilingual teachers are in especially short supply. 

Oregon cannot use race to disfavor individuals for government benefits, even if the benefit is only a modest reimbursement. There’s no dollar figure that lets the government discriminate. The Supreme Court was clear when it said ending discrimination means ending all of it. 

Oregon’s Diversity License Expense Reimbursement Program is yet another instance in a growing trend across the country to use race as a condition of receiving benefits from government programs. The Constitution forbids the use of race to determine who deserves benefits and who does not. 

Tyler has always stood up for fairness and equality, and now he’s taking a stand for the right to be treated equally in Oregon’s reimbursement program. 

Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation at no charge, Tyler is fighting back with a federal lawsuit, continuing an essential lesson for his students that the government must treat individuals based on need and merit, regardless of their race.

What’s At Stake?

  • Oregon cannot use racial distinctions to deny individuals government benefits. Even if the benefit is only a modest reimbursement, it’s morally wrong and flatly unconstitutional to use race to determine eligibility.

Case Timeline

February 01, 2024
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon