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Discrimination suit against Mississippi school district reinstated


A federal appeals court Thursday reinstated a discrimination lawsuit filed by a Black female educator whose school district refused to finance her additional training.

LaRenda Harrison, a school administrator who works for the Brookhaven School District in Brookhaven, Mississippi, was its director of alternative education, but she aspired to serve as a superintendent, according to the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in LaRenda J. Harrison, Ed.D. v. Brookhaven School District, City of Brookhaven.

To that end, she sought to attend the Mississippi School Board Association Prospective Superintendent’s Leadership Academy, the ruling said.

The school district’s precedent was to pay every employee’s fees after being accepted into the program, and the district’s deputy superintendent said he would do so for Ms. Harrison.

But once she was accepted into the program, the district’s superintendent refused to pay for her to attend at that time, instead offering to pay for her to attend in two years. Because Ms. Harrison’s spot was for the upcoming class, she paid the fees herself.

Mr. Harrison sued the district in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, Mississippi, stating that it had paid for similarly situated white males to attend and charging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court ruled in the school district’s favor and was overturned by a three-judge appeals court panel.

Ms. Harrison’s primary argument is that “Title VII’s tent sweeps wide enough to encompass her claim” so the district’s refusal to pay for her to attend the leadership academy is an adverse employment action, the panel’s ruling said.

“Until recently this argument would have failed in our circuit,” because its standard required an “ultimate employment decision.” But it has recently broadened its standard, the panel said, in holding Ms. Harrison had plausibly alleged discrimination.

“The School District’s actions, as alleged, discriminated against Harrison, a black female” with respect to a privilege of employment because of her race and sex, the panel said, in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Attorneys in the case had no comment or did not respond to requests for comment.