A Vancouver woman is suing Evergreen Public Schools, alleging she was the victim of racist behavior by co-workers during her three years as a special education teacher.
In a lawsuit filed Feb. 25 in Clark County Superior Court, Cora Haynes, a black woman, described ongoing harassment and hostility at 49th Street Academy, eventually ending in the district declining to renew her contract at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. Haynes also alleges Principal Amber Lindly was aware of the behavior, but failed to respond and even participated in some of the harassment.
“It just got progressively worse and more severe because it was unchecked,” said Luke Laughlin, an Olympia attorney representing Haynes.
Evergreen Public Schools declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Racial hostility alleged
The school district hired Haynes full time for the 2016-2017 school year, assigning her to a classroom at the therapeutic day school, which serves students with significant mental or physical health challenges.
Her lawsuit alleges that Haynes “first noticed racial hostility” from white staff within a few months of starting her job. A white staff member, Haynes alleges, complained to the principal that Haynes spoke “too black.” Lindly “made light of the matter,” and said it “should be expected after 400 years of slavery,” according to the lawsuit.
Haynes also alleges that between 2017 and 2018, white staff made comments about her hair, attire, appearance and food. On occasions when she wore her hair in an Afro or wore a black suit, white staff joked that it was “Angela Davis day,” a reference to the revolutionary black activist, according to the lawsuit. Some also raised their fists and yelled “black power,” referred to her as an “angry black woman,” or called her “little miss Black Panther,” the suit states.
On one occasion when she had blonde hair, a white staff member called her “Mary J. Blige,” according to the court filing. Another time when she had curly hair, a staff member called her “Whitney,” a reference to singer Whitney Houston.
The lawsuit alleges Lindly was nearby in many cases, but never intervened. Haynes said she was also undermined by her white classroom assistants, who “attempted to usurp her authority,” “came and went as they pleased” and “talked back to her.” The lawsuit says Haynes reported the incidents to Lindly, who allegedly never took corrective action.
“It’s beyond me they can allow this to happen, be fully aware and not take adequate and appropriate action,” Laughlin said.
Scrutiny and monitoring
The lawsuit also alleges that at an all-staff meeting in August 2018, staff were asked to take part in an assignment where they were required to act like monkeys. Monkeys have long been used in offensive, racist caricatures of black people.
When Haynes and another black person on staff objected to the assignment, Lindly allegedly ignored them, according to the court documents. Lindly directed all staff to implement that program in a September 2018 staff meeting, and Haynes objected again, according to court documents. Lindly allegedly told Haynes she would speak to her later, but didn’t.
From there, the lawsuit alleges, Haynes faced increased “scrutiny and monitoring.” She had job duties removed, was asked to respond to false or trivial allegations against her and was subject to discipline, according to the documents.
At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, Haynes’ contract was not renewed.
“In addition to lost wages, Ms. Haynes experienced severe humiliation, anxiety and depression as a result of the school district’s failure to protect her from a racially discriminatory hostile work environment,” according to the lawsuit.
Haynes is seeking damages including back pay, medical expenses, compensation for emotional suffering and attorney’s fees.