Judge Threatens Parents With Massive Penalties for Challenging School Antiracism Dogma: Lawyers
Greg Piper, Just The News, April 10, 2023
Two teachers challenging the constitutionality of compelled antiracism training have been ordered to pay nearly $313,000 in their Missouri school district’s legal fees, under a ruling their lawyers called “overtly hostile” and “meant to scare off future lawsuits by parents and teachers.”
The Southeastern Legal Foundation is appealing U.S. District Judge Douglas Harpool’s summary judgment in favor of Springfield Public Schools and the six-figure award against their clients Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley, according to an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals notice Friday.
The public interest litigation firm “has never faced attorney fees sanctions for challenging unconstitutional government action at any level” in nearly 50 years of so-called Section 1983 civil rights lawsuits against public officials, SLF Litigation Director Braden Boucek said in a press release.
General Counsel Kimberly Hermann called Harpool, a longtime Democratic elected official in Missouri appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, “a lone agenda-driven federal judge” determined to “deny concerned teachers and parents the right to seek redress in court.”
Henderson and Lumley filed the First Amendment compelled- and chilled-speech suit against the district in summer 2021, alleging the “equity training” forces employees to discuss their place on an “oppression matrix,” advocate for “changes in political, economic, and social life,” and disclose “personal details that they wish to keep private.”
Harpool’s Jan. 12 summary judgment in favor of the district cited a “total lack of injury” on the part of the teachers that “may suggest a groundlessness that trivializes the important work of the federal judiciary,” foreshadowing the legal bludgeoning they would face on attorney’s fees in his March 31 order approving the full award sought by the district.
SLF rebutted Harpool’s characterization of the training in its March 3 opposition to the district’s motion for attorney’s fees.
“At least” four staff members alleged they self-censored because speaking up would put “a target on their back” resulting in a “hostile work environment,” and the chief equity and diversity officer explicitly said staff must “start the work of becoming antiracist educators” in order to “support these students,” the filing said.
The case raised the unsettled question of “whether a school district can induce its employees to become couriers for its messages on anti-racism and equity,” SLF argued. The district cannot meet its “high burden” to show the teachers “had no basis in law to bring such claims in such a novel context” or that any “single key fact” they alleged “was false or delusional.”