Former teacher files discrimination lawsuit against Evergreen School District

Cora Haynes was a special education teacher at the district’s 49th Street Academy

VANCOUVER — A former special education teacher for Evergreen Public Schools has filed a lawsuit against the Evergreen School District alleging the district engaged in unlawful employment discrimination.

Cora Haynes
Cora Haynes

Cora Haynes, who was employed at the district’s 49th Street Academy, claims in her lawsuit that between 2016-2019, she “experienced race-based workplace hostility and discriminatory treatment from white staff and administration that grew in frequency and severity over her three years at 49th Street until her unlawful termination.’’

The lawsuit alleges that Haynes was treated “differently than her non-Black coworkers, creating and maintaining a hostile work environment, retaliating against her for complaining about and opposing discrimination in the workplace, and terminating her employment.’’

Haynes is seeking economic and emotional distress damages and equitable relief.

“We hope that the school district recognizes the egregiousness of their behavior and takes this matter very seriously. Racism has no place in our communities, especially not in our schools,” said Luke Laughlin, an Olympia-based attorney representing Haynes.

Haynes’ lawsuit was filed in Clark County Superior Court on Feb. 25. On March 11, a science teacher at Wy’east Middle School, Eric Dodge, filed a lawsuit against the Evergreen School District and two individuals, claiming violations of his constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Haynes was hired by the Evergreen School District as a substitute teacher in 2015. She was promoted to full-time status for the 2016-2017 school year and was assigned to the 49th Street Academy, described in the lawsuit as a “therapeutic day school designed as an alternative to traditional public school for students with significant behavioral, mental and/or physical challenges. Prior to joining the Evergreen School District, Haynes had nearly two decades of experience in special education.

The lawsuit claims that Haynes was “the first Black woman ever employed as a teacher at 49th Street.’’

The lawsuit states that at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, “a white staff member complained to Principal [Amber] Lindley that Ms. Haynes talked ‘too Black.’ Principal Lindley made light of the matter and commented to the staff that that should be expected after 400 years of slavery.’’

The lawsuit states that over the course of the next three years at the 49th Street Academy, “Ms. Haynes was subjected to further unwelcome and offensive race-based ridicule, mockery, name calling and discriminatory remarks by white faculty members and staff, often about her hair, dress, appearance and food.’’

The lawsuit provided more examples.

“On multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018 when Ms. Haynes wore her hair in an afro or wore a black suit, white staff made jokes about it being ‘Angela Davis day’ and some would raise their fists toward her and yell ‘black power!’ On multiple occasions, white staff referred to her as ‘little miss black panther’ and ‘an angry black woman.’’’

“On one occasion in fall 2017, when Ms. Haynes had blond hair, a white staff person mocked her by referring to her as Black music artist ‘Mary J. Blige.’ On another occasion at the end of that school year when she wore her hair in curls, a staff person mocked her by referring to her as Black music artist ‘Whitney’ (Houston).’’

The lawsuit alleges that these incidents occurred throughout the school and even in faculty and staff meeting and that, to Haynes’ knowledge, Principal Lindley never took any corrective action against any of the “perpetrators.’’

The lawsuit claims that “Ms. Haynes was also treated less favorably than similarly situated white faculty. She was constantly undermined and treated as though she lacked the ability to do her job; denied opportunities given to white staff; and set-up for failure being denied adequate classroom assistance.’’

The lawsuit also states that “on multiple occasions, she [Haynes] was treated so badly that she went to Principal Lindley in tears.’’

At an all-staff meeting in August 2018, the lawsuit claims that “Ms. Haynes verbally objected to what she perceived as a culturally insensitive assignment proposed by Principal Lindley that required the staff to act like monkeys. Ms. Haynes objected to performing that portion of the assignment because she felt it was culturally insensitive to Black staff. Another Black staff person also vocalized her objection to it. Principal Lindley ignored them and continued on with her instructions.’’

The lawsuit stated that Haynes was terminated at the end of the 2018-2019 school year via a non-renewal notice issued approximately a month earlier. The lawsuit also alleges that Haynes was “replaced by a less qualified white woman.’’

Haynes is claiming that in addition to lost wages, she has experienced severe humiliation, anxiety and depression because of the “discriminatory and retaliatory treatment that she endured while employed at 49th Street.’’

Haynes is seeking relief in the form of economic damages (back pay, front pay, lost earning potential, medical expenses); non-economic damages (emotional suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life); attorneys’ fees and costs; and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.

The Evergreen School District has not yet responded to Clark County Today’s request for a statement and other information.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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