A former Albemarle County assistant principal, who filed suit against the school board after she claims she was forced out of her job for raising concerns over mandatory anti-racism training, will get her day in court.
A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the case will be allowed to proceed, in part.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon granted the school board’s request to dismiss Mais’ complaints that she was wrongfully discharged, that her free speech was infringed and that the school board violated the Virginia Human Rights Act.
Moon, however, permitted Mais’ claims that the school board violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin – to proceed.
“Considering the alleged repeated race-based comments, the School Board’s lack of intervention, and Plaintiff’s emotional and mental distress, Plaintiff has alleged a plausible racial hostile work environment claim under Title VII, which will survive the School Board’s motion to dismiss,” Moon wrote in his opinion.
Mais, who served as assistant principal at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School from 2018 until 2021, alleges she was retaliated against after she spoke out against anti-racism training and then accidentally used the term “colored people” instead of “people of color” during a final training session in June of 2021.
Mais was “branded a racist, severely and pervasively harassed, relentlessly humiliated and ultimately compelled to resign from a job that she loved to preserve her mental health,” her attorneys argued in a 45-page complaint filed April 13, 2022.
Mais, who is being represented in her suit by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, is seeking back pay and damages from the school board.
“We’re pleased the court has allowed Emily’s case to proceed and urge it to affirm that Title VII protects Americans of all races from a workplace rife with racial hostility,” the alliance’s senior counsel Hal Frampton said in a statement released on Wednesday.
The Albemarle County School Board adopted its anti-racism policy in 2019. Part of that policy required training for school personnel, some of which was based on Glenn Singleton’s book “Courageous Conversations About Race.”
“After the training began, some Agnor-Hurt staff members complained to Mais ‘about the racially hostile environment created by the training and the training materials and the hurtful and pejorative comments made by other staff members, which demonized them for being white,’ according to court records.
Mais claims she expressed these concerns to school officials, but the training’s structure and content were not changed.
On the last day of training on June 11, 2021, Mais made a reference to “colored people,” which her attorneys have called a “slip-of-the-tongue.”
Mais said she quickly apologized, but her apology was ignored. Afterward, Mais claims she was treated to targeted hostility, humiliation and harassment from school employees.
Mais resigned on Aug. 29, 2021, and left the school division on Sept. 10, 2021.
In her complaints to the court, Mais claimed the school board had infringed on her constitutional right to free speech.
However, the judge ruled, “Because Plaintiff is not challenging the constitutionality of a law or ordinance and is instead trying to bring a free speech claim for damage relief against the School Board, the Court finds that her claim is barred by sovereign immunity and will dismiss it without prejudice.”
Mais also argued that the school board had violated the state’s Human Rights Act, which protects against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status and disability.
Moon ruled that those complaints would be dismissed, though, as the act “does not contain an explicit waiver of sovereign immunity.”
School boards and other commonwealth agencies are “not bound by statutes of general application ‘no matter how comprehensive the language, unless named expressly or included by necessary implication,’” Moon said.
Mais’ complaints that the school board created a retaliatory and racial hostile work environment essentially forcing her to quit, what’s known as “constructive discharge,” will be allowed to proceed.
“Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that her protected activity – namely, complaining that the anti-racist training created a hostile work environment and that the School Board racially discriminated against her – could plausibly be the but for cause of the hostile conduct and constructive discharge,” Moon ruled.
Albemarle County Public Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita told The Daily Progress on Friday that while there was not much the school division could say while the case remains in litigation, it welcomed the news that several of Mais’ complaints had been dismissed.
“We’re pleased the court accepted our argument on sovereign immunity, dismissing the claims in state court and that we are looking forward to proceeding with the discovery phase in federal court. This will include extensive activity, including depositions, research, interrogatories,” Giaramita said.
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