Problems at Richland County School District One appear to be multiplying and a recently filed discrimination lawsuit is adding fuel to the fire.
Linda Pratt, former principal of Carver-Lyon Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, is suing the Richland County School District One for gender discrimination, race discrimination, and other claims.
The lawsuit was filed in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas on Feb. 20 — the same day superintendent Craig Witherspoon sent an email to school district employees that disputed a slew of recent articles written about the district, which backfired. The following day, district officials announced they were again closing AC Flora High School turf field after parents and coaches raised safety concerns. It was the third time in a year the new $700,000+ field has been closed down.
Pratt’s lawsuit exemplifies a few of the many problems facing the district. Her lawsuit is the eighth filed against the district this school year. To compare, Richland Two has faced two lawsuits in that same time period, according to online records.
In the months leading up to her resignation, Pratt said she was told not to question budgeting decisions made by the district, according to the lawsuit. Throughout our reporting on Richland One’s questionable spending, dozens of parents and employees said they feared speaking out against the district’s financial decisions because of possible retaliation.
Richland One officials hired Pratt as the Carver-Lyon principal in May 2018 to “add structure to the school and increase the academic performance of the school,” according to the lawsuit.
Pratt “performed her job in a competent, if not more than competent manner, during her employment with the district,” the lawsuit said.
However, Pratt said her hard work was met with unfair, unprofessional, and hostile treatment, according to the lawsuit.
Pratt said that during her time as principal, she “was not shown the same respect as male administrators within the district.”
According to the lawsuit, soon after Pratt was hired, other employees told her that assistant principal Rodney Evans, a black man, said Pratt had “a nice a**” and said he could “smooth” Pratt over because her husband is black. Pratt is a white woman married to a black man, the lawsuit stated multiple times.
In addition to the rude remarks, Pratt said Evans wouldn’t follow her directions on multiple occasions in August 2018.
In another August 2018 incident, Pratt chose a white teacher over a black teacher for an after-school position. She chose “the white employee based on her additional administrative degree,” the lawsuit said.
“The black employee who did not receive the position told other employees within the district that Plaintiff would “always pick her color,” the lawsuit said.
In a September 2018 incident, Evans allegedly entered Pratt’s office while she was gone. When Pratt confronted him about this, Evans “became upset and raised his voice.” Then Evens filed a pretextual grievance against Pratt.
In a separate incident on September 20, 2018, Evans told another employee he was “tired of this sh*t,” asking “what does she want now,” and said Pratt “can’t talk to a n****r just any old way,” according to the lawsuit.
On that same day, Pratt told Richland One executive director of schools Eunice Williams that she was not comfortable meeting with Evans based on his behavior.” She “continued to follow up with administration about her concerns regarding Evans but was not given any immediate assistance,” the lawsuit stated.
Four days later, Evans went on an unannounced indefinite Family Medical Leave Act leave.
Administration told Pratt that “she needed to handle Evans with ‘love,’ he deserved his job back, and (Pratt) needed to be willing to have him come back,” the lawsuit said. Evans was later transferred to another school and never disciplined for the incidents at Carver-Lyon.
“Throughout October 2018, (Pratt) reached out to several people in administration for the district to express her concerns about staffing at the school and the need for support.”
On Nov. 1, 2018, Pratt terminated another employee who then called her the “white devil,” according to the lawsuit. The employee named in the lawsuit as “Ms. Watson” admitted to human resources she said this.
“Also in November 2018, Plaintiff was called into a meeting with district administration and told not to question budget decisions made by the district.”
Problems for Pratt escalated in February 2019 when two administrators Dr. Turner and Dr. Haggwood held a meeting at Carter-Lyon without Pratt, according to the lawsuit. The meeting focused on Pratt and employees spoke negatively about her. According to the lawsuit:
- Teachers were asked to express their concerns about Pratt.
- Some accused Pratt of being the reason that teachers would not stay with the district.
- Some implied that Pratt would be terminated.
Then, one of the attendees (not named in the lawsuit) “summarized their experience at the meeting” and included negative statements made about Pratt and sent it to district administrators and local media.
After submitting a grievance to the district, Pratt missed three days at the end of February 2019 and then consulted with an attorney about discrimination and unfair treatment.
On Feb. 28, a medical professional placed Pratt on medical leave for about a month, the lawsuit said.
In March 2019, Pratt submitted a “questionnaire and charge” to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “alleging race and gender discrimination and retaliation,” the lawsuit said. On that same day, officials removed Pratt from the Carver-Lyon’s Facebook account.
When Pratt returned to work in April, her computer was gone and her district login no longer worked. HR then told her she was being moved from her position as principal to a position with special services.
She was told to clean out her desk and given a new email address and access code, which didn’t work for a month, the lawsuit said. Pratt eventually resigned. This led to rumors about her resignation.
“Statements have falsely been made by (Richland One) employees that (Pratt) is no longer with the District because she was embezzling money,” the lawsuit said.
What she’s suing for
According to the lawsuit, Pratt is suing for gender discrimination because:
- She was “subjected to inappropriate gender-based comments by employees of the district including Evans.”
- She “reported this conduct to her supervisors who either failed to take any remedial action or ignored her concerns all together.”
- She was treated differently than her male counterparts in similar situations.
- Such actions violate her rights “under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Civil Rights Act of 1991.”
Pratt is also suing for race discrimination because she was treated “in an unfair and hostile manner in comparison to black employees,” and district employees “made inappropriate comments about Pratt’s race that ultimately led to her leaving the district.
She’s also suing the district for retaliation in violation of Title VII and Family Medical Leave Act, and defamation.
Pratt has requested a jury trial. Columbia attorney Samantha Albrecht is representing her in the case.
FITSNews will continue to report on the many issues facing the Richland One School District . You can submit your information through our tip line or by sending emails to our founding editor Will Folks ([email protected]) and to our news director Mandy Matney ([email protected]) – preferably using the subject header “Midlands Accountability Project.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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