SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Employees of Stephens Middle School have filed complaints claiming school leaders tolerate a culture of racial jokes among staff members and in front of students.
Assistant librarian Jill Mundt has notified Salem-Keizer School District of her intent to sue.
She claims Principal Neil Anderson tolerated racial jokes but selectively disciplined her after she responded to an e-mail that parodied another employee.
“Racially derogatory words and actions are rampant in the school,” said Larry Linder, Mundt’s lawyer, adding that those who are complaining just want change.
The district filed a response last Friday, June 26, which district spokesman Jay Remy characterized as a strong denial.
He declined to detail what the response contained. Remy and Anderson did not comment on the specific allegations, saying that the district wants the legal and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission processes to proceed.
“Nobody is ignoring these,” Remy said. “That’s how it will be determined what the facts are and what the remedy needs to be.”
Stephens Middle School serves about 960 students. Approximately 65 percent of the students are minorities.
Two discrimination complaints obtained by the Statesman Journal claim administrators gave wide latitude to some staffers who made racist remarks even the students found inappropriate.
The tort claim filed by Mundt cites several incidents she says were tolerated.
It claims two former teachers referred to themselves as trailer trash and that a teacher, while pushing a cart, asked the principal if the cart should have an Asian driver.
The claim contends the same teacher pulled back her eyes and started talking in a fake Chinese language in front of students and another staff member.
The district has received multiple internal complaints from employees at Stephens, Remy said.
The district contends that the complaints are personnel matters and not public records.
Internal complaints by Mundt released to the Statesman Journal cite unhappy staff members and a high transfer rate.
Anderson said Stephens promotes a discrimination-free and harassment-free workplace.
Flags of students’ birth countries hang in the building, as do banners welcoming students in seven languages.
“We have great teachers, great staff members that are fully committed to the job at hand,” Anderson said.
Mundt’s tort claim says she underwent unfair retaliation and discipline for responding to an e-mail about a fellow employee who parodied The 12 Days of Christmas song. A staff member who helped create the e-mail says it was based on actual situations, and it was meant to be funny and was not racist.
Holly Matheny filed a federal complaint contending that she was unfairly disciplined after helping to create the parody e-mail.
Her complaint says the discipline was arbitrary and that administrators and some others have wide latitude in making verbal racist comments.
“I don’t make racist jokes,” Matheny said. “I have children of mixed race. It was hurtful to be called that.” ♦