Education

Called ‘crackers’ and ‘Hitler lovers,’ fired teachers file discrimination lawsuit against school

Cirrus Academy
Cirrus Academy wmarshall@macon.com

Two weeks after a Cirrus Academy special education teacher filed a lawsuit against the school, two former educators have filed another suit, also alleging that they were victims of racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

Susan Campbell, of Thomaston, and Ginger Snow, of Monroe, contend that they were wrongfully fired after reporting and complaining of racial discrimination.

The women contend they received text messages in November and December 2016 calling them “white b-----es,” “crackers,” “Hitler lovers,” and “white nazis,” saying the school would be an “all black school” once “we get the whites out.”

The educators, who are white, allege that the messages included threats of violence against them and their families if they reported the harassment and included cellphone pictures of the women at school.

While the messages were sent anonymously, Campbell — an instructional coach — and Snow — the school’s lead special education teacher — maintain that they were sent by school employees.

Another white teacher, Diana R. Humble, filed a federal lawsuit May 18 also alleging that she’d received racially charged text messages and threats of physical violence.

Campbell, Humble and Snow filed a third-party complaint with the Georgia Department of Education in January under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, raising concerns about the school’s special education program. The complaint resulted in the agency’s issuing a finding that the school was in non-compliance with regulations.

Humble, after receiving advice from a doctor, has been on unpaid leave from her job since January.

Lawyer Buddy Welch issued a statement Thursday saying, “It is the Academy’s position that Ms. Campbell and Ms. Snow do not have legally enforceable claims against the Academy. We look forward to defending these matters on behalf of the Academy.”

Citing the pending litigation, he declined further comment.

Charles Hoffecker, an attorney representing Campbell and Snow, said litigation is a last resort for anyone, and his clients have been left with no other choice to get their grievances addressed.

Here are allegations in the suit, which Campbell and Show filed against the school Wednesday:

When they worked for Cirrus, they were two of five white employees. Fifty-five employees at the school were black.

After receiving the text messages, the women reported harassment to the principal, who referred them to the school’s superintendent, Ashanti Johnson, a black woman. Humble also reported receiving harassing text messages.

In January, Campbell and Snow reported the harassment via email, forwarding some of the text messages to Johnson, the school’s attorney and the school’s principal, Gail Fowler, a black woman.

When no action was taken to protect the teachers, Campbell and Snow asked to address the school board, but they were told by Cirrus’ attorney that they wouldn’t be allowed to.

Despite holding master’s degrees, and in some cases more certifications than their black coworkers, the women allege they were paid less than their black coworkers who held similar positions with less experience.

After complaining about the harassment and pay issues to Cirrus’ leadership, Campbell and Snow say they began to experience “retaliatory conduct,” with their private phone conversations eavesdropped on by administrators through the school phone system. School representatives contacted the women’s cellphone providers, claiming the educators’ phones were school property and demanding all records.

They claim their personal possessions were taken from their offices and classrooms and destroyed by school personnel.

The women contend they were harassed by the school’s administration for being “troublemakers,” told to stop complaining and “just do your job.”

Campbell and Snow say they were told by administrators they couldn’t communicate with each other and warned that they would lose their jobs if they continued to make reports. Further, they contend they were told school leadership would call area schools and ruin their reputations.

Bibb County Sheriff’s Office deputies went to the school last fall and talked with school leaders who alleged that an administrator had been sending anonymous, harassing text messages to teachers, according to a sheriff’s office incident report.

No charges were filed against the administrator, but an investigation revealed that Campbell had forged a criminal background check document used during her hiring, according to the sheriff’s office and an arrest warrant.

Campbell was charged with forgery March 27, according to jail records.

The lawsuit contends that Cirrus officials caused her “to be arrested without cause.”

Campbell and Snow allege they had trouble sleeping, experienced hair and weight loss, and had episodes of anxiety and paranoia at work. They have sought medical care and counseling for illnesses and symptoms related to harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Neither woman has been able to find a teaching position in an area school.

Campbell and Snow are seeking back pay, compensation for lost wages, benefits and future income and other compensatory and punitive damages.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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