A former employee of Metro Nashville Public Schools has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was discriminated against because of his race.
The suit claims that plaintiff Raymond Matthews, a 58-year-old African-American who worked for 21 years as an MNPS groundskeeper before his termination, was subjected to harassment on the job that included a hangman’s noose tied to an MNPS van.
A white co-worker of Matthews named as a defendant in the case, James Kemper, allegedly referred to Matthews by names including “hood rat.” The suit claims that Kemper contributed to a workplace climate of discrimination that resulted in employees not following Matthews’ instructions.
In November 2007, when protests related to the “Jena 6” made headlines across the country, a co-worker of Matthews tied a noose to a company van while seven other white employees watched, according to the suit.
Matthews allegedly complained to other supervisors, but was terminated following a December “altercation” with Kemper, according to the suit. He appealed the decision and an administrative hearing took place. Following the hearing, an outside reviewer hired by MNPS allegedly said in a letter to then-acting Director of Schools Chris Henson that, “there was a racial component in the workplace that Mr. Matthews never should have had to tolerate.”
After the appeal, MNPS offered a “Return to Work Agreement” that would have placed Matthews in a custodial position at a lower pay grade – Grade 2, as opposed to the Grade 7 classification he had held since 1999. The suit states that Matthews requested “an alternative,” but was subsequently terminated again.
Matthews’ attorney, Kevin Sharp, of Nashville firm Drescher & Sharp, was engaged initially to represent Matthews at his MNPS administrative hearing.
“The whole thing was just shocking,” Sharp said of the hearing. “Nobody seemed to be as outraged as I was. … There wasn’t anything said in these hearings to say, ‘No, this stuff didn’t happen.”
The suit was filed Feb. 4 in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee. According to information from Metro’s Legal Department, Metro has not yet been served the suit. The defendants named are Metro government, Kemper, and MNPS employee and former supervisor of Matthews Timothy McLaughlin.
According to Sharp, the case has been assigned to Judge William Haynes, and a case management conference has been set for March 30 at 10 a.m.