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Case arguments made for suit over retaliation from race discrimination claims among Lynchburg school staff

Case arguments made for suit over retaliation from race discrimination claims among Lynchburg school staff

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The Lynchburg City School Board has been trying to get a judge to rule in its favor in a lawsuit filed by a former assistant superintendent alleging racial discrimination and retaliation from administration.

Both Jay McClain and Twanna Hancock, who used to work for LCS as an assistant superintendent and supervisor, respectively, filed their own individual lawsuits against the school division last year.

The lawsuits alleged a racially discriminatory work environment at the hands of then-interim superintendent Larry Massie and others that culminated in Hancock’s demotion in 2017 and resignation in 2018.

Having been a party to the investigation of anonymous complaints against Hancock, McClain filed a report of harassment “on behalf of himself, Ms. Hancock, and other African-American LCS employees” shortly after her demotion.

Hancock alleged in her suit that Massie and other members of LCS administration conducted a “sham investigation” that was unfair to her as a Black woman at several junctions.

Her lawsuit was settled earlier this year, records indicated. The settlement conference was confidential, no settlement dollar amount is mentioned in court records and attorneys in the case wouldn’t comment on the settlement or how much money was involved.

Neither lawsuit demanded any specific dollar amount.

McClain’s complaint, sparked also in part by discussions with other Black school employees who told him they experienced “the culture of racism in the division and specific acts of sabotage,” led to another investigation in late 2017.

That investigation was led by Linda Hall, director of human resources at what then was Lynchburg College, whose report found neither Massie, the school division as a whole or Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Administration Ben Copeland had done anything wrong. Copeland took the position of Deputy Superintendent at LCS in July 2018 and left this past June to work as an administrator at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

The lawsuit claims Hall’s investigation, too, was a “sham investigation” that McClain appealed to the school board. The school board rejected his appeal. In court documents, McClain’s lawyers said written statements from Hancock — who still was employed but on medical leave at the time — about what happened to her weren’t included in Hall’s investigation report.

In May 2018, new superintendent Crystal Edwards notified McClain his position as assistant superintendent would be eliminated and offered him “the teaching job of his choice,” according to court documents. Instead, he took medical leave and later informed LCS he wouldn’t return.

He claimed he was “forced out” of his position as retaliation for reporting race discrimination, the lawsuit stated.

Attorneys for the school board filed a motion in July seeking for a judge to rule against McClain and in favor of the school board. That motion was argued before U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon via teleconference last week.

The school board argued McClain’s position wasn’t cut because of the complaint he filed but because of a budgetary shortfall for fiscal year 2018-19 — with Edwards cutting six other positions alongside his. The board also argued his claim of retaliation couldn’t stand because he resigned after Edwards offered him a teaching job.

McClain’s lawyers said Massie “eroded” his position away during his tenure and other employees who lost their positions in 2018 were better situated than McClain: some were promoted and others were offered lateral moves, while McClain’s offer involved a 50% pay cut and reduction of responsibilities by several levels.

Lawyers representing the school board said McClain’s complaints were a jab at Massie, having disagreed with most of Massie’s decisions affecting his department while working as interim superintendent.

Moon has not yet ruled on the school board’s motion. Attorneys for the school board said they expect a decision within the next month or two.

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