TCTA | Principal sues over nonrenewal of contract, alleging…
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Principal sues over nonrenewal of contract, alleging discrimination

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A principal sued a school district after it voted to nonrenew her contract, alleging that the decision constituted discrimination against her based on her race and age. The district court dismissed the lawsuit and she appealed to the court of appeals.

The court of appeals noted that the district began an investigation into the principal after an annual review of her expenditures raised concerns about checks that were not countersigned by two individuals as required by policy and several transactions that did not have proper documentation.

The investigation ultimately revealed that the principal had violated the district's financial management policies in the following ways:

  1. Permitting her secretary to sign the principal's name to campus activity fund checks.
  2. Permitting faculty to charge students to attend pep rallies, choir concerts, and theater productions, and to get temporary student IDs.
  3. Permitting faculty to charge students for composition books that had been paid for by the district.
  4. Charging the faculty to wear jeans.
  5. Depositing proceeds from student events in a petty cash fund that was used for non-district authorized expenses.

During the investigation, an assistant principal also reported that the principal had a bottle of alcohol in her car while it was parked on school property and that she appeared to be drunk during a school event. The investigation also revealed that the principal shared her passwords with her secretary and other employees and had them perform her duties, instructed her secretary to run personal errands for her during school hours and permitted and promoted a non-curricular student Bible study group that did not comply with district policy.

Based on the above allegations of misconduct, the district proposed the nonrenewal of the principal's contract. The principal requested a hearing, after which the board of trustees voted to nonrenew her contract. The principal appealed the nonrenewal of her contract to the commissioner of education, who upheld the board's decision. The principal then filed the lawsuit, alleging discrimination.

The principal claimed that the assistant superintendent, who is a Hispanic woman, wanted to fire her because she and African American students received preferential treatment from the superintendent, an African American male. She alleged that this claim of discrimination was supported by the fact that she was replaced by a Caucasian female. She further claimed that her allegations of discrimination against her based on age were supported by the fact that her replacement was younger than her.

However, the court of appeals disagreed, noting that the interim principal who had filled the position while the principal was under investigation was African American. The court also noted that, although her replacement was younger than her, she was only six years younger, which is not a significant difference in age.

Finally, the court of appeals noted that, although consideration of the principal’s replacement was relevant to the question of whether the district engaged in discriminatory conduct, there were also factors that should be considered, such as whether the district had established legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for nonrenewing the principal's contract.

Accordingly, it examined the findings of the district’s investigation and concluded that the principal’s violations of policy did constitute a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to nonrenew her contract. The court of appeals upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit.