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VA court rules public school administrator’s civil rights case may proceed

ADF attorneys represent former administrator in lawsuit against Albemarle County School Board
Teacher in Classroom

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A federal district court ruled Tuesday to allow a former public school administrator’s civil rights lawsuit against the Albemarle County School Board to proceed. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Emily Mais, who filed a lawsuit in April 2022 against the school district for creating a racially hostile work environment that forced her to leave her job.

“Instead of training faculty members to embrace students of all races, Albemarle County school officials are using a curriculum that fosters racial hostility,” said ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton. “The training sets up a classic Catch-22: It encourages all staff members to ‘speak their truth,’ but when a white person like Emily raises concerns about the divisive content, she is deemed a racist in need of further ‘anti-racism’ instruction. Emily believes every person is made in the image of God and entitled to equal treatment and respect, and Emily did her best to call school officials’ attention to the divisive ideology their training promoted. 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.”

School officials severely harassed and discriminated against Mais, who served as the assistant principal at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School, after she raised concerns about a mandatory “anti-racism” teacher training that advocated for differential treatment based on race. During one training session, when discussing the school district’s hiring practices, she inadvertently used the phrase “colored people,” meaning to say, “people of color.” She quickly apologized, but school officials used her slip-of-the-tongue as an excuse to humiliate, shame, and harass her to the point that she felt compelled to leave the job she loved.

The Albemarle County School Board filed a motion to dismiss the case, which the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division, granted in part and denied in part. In its decision in Mais v. Albemarle County School Board, the court explained that Mais’ lawsuit may proceed “considering the alleged repeated race-based comments, the School Board’s lack of intervention, and [Mais’] emotional and mental distress, [Mais] has alleged a plausible racial hostile work environment claim under Title VII, which will survive the School Board’s motion to dismiss.”

The training curriculum, which is based on the book “Courageous Conversations About Race,” attributes negative characteristics to some people and positive characteristics to others based solely on their race. For example, the curriculum teaches that acts of “racism” can only be committed by members of the “dominant race,” which it defines as white people. The district is using the curriculum even though the Virginia superintendent of public instruction has expressly recognized that the “Courageous Conversations” book promotes inherently divisive concepts that are harmful to students and staff members and is an example of materials based on critical race theory that are being used in Virginia schools.

Mais served as an elementary art teacher for seven years before moving into administrative roles in 2012. Albemarle County School District officials constructively discharged her by creating a hostile environment where they repeatedly dismissed her complaints; as a result, Mais felt compelled to resign from her role as assistant principal in September 2021.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Hal Frampton
Hal Frampton
Senior Counsel
Hal Frampton serves as senior counsel in the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom.