That First Amendment Lesson Didn’t Go So Well

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (CN) — A North Carolina high school teacher who lost his job for stepping on an American flag in his social studies class to teach a lesson about the Bill of Rights has sued the school board a second time, this time for racial discrimination.

When Lee Francis stood on the flag in his Massey Hill Classical High School classroom last fall, it prompted outrage from some students and parents. The Cumberland County Schools Board of Education and its former superintendent, Frank Till, suspended him for 10 days without pay and reassigned him to warehouse duty for 90 days. Francis was never reinstated to his teaching duties.

Francis sued the school board in January, in Cumberland County Superior Court, claiming his suspension violated his right to freedom of speech. He was unsuccessful.

Till then recommended that Francis’ contract not be renewed for the 2017-2018 school year, prompting Francis to resign in March.

On Wednesday, Francis sued the board again, in Federal Court, alleging racial discrimination and breach of contract.

According to the new lawsuit, during the flag controversy, “a white female teacher in the same school district received a more mild punishment for a much more harmful action.”

The complaint continues: “Specifically, Pine Forest High School teacher Victoria Maultsby, while in conversation in a school hallway with a student, referred to another student, a black male, using the derogatory term, ‘H.N.’ That term is shorthand for the racial epithet ‘house n—–.’ In response, Dr. Till recommended only a five-day disciplinary suspension without pay, and upon information and belief permitted Ms. Maultsby to return to her classroom immediately thereafter.”

Francis says this disparate treatment led to “public outcry,” whereupon the superintendent removed Maultsby from her classroom and assigned her to the district’s central services office, where her tasks were “appropriate for the skills and background of an experienced educator.”

Francis filed an employment discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which dismissed it but provided him with a notice of his rights to sue on June 5.

The Board of Education bought Till out of his contract for his final year as superintendent on June 13, but has yet to permanently replace him.

Francis seeks damages of $135,000, and punitive damages.

He is represented by Peter C. Anderson with Beveridge & Diamond, in Charlotte.

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