A federal jury trial should go forward over a racial discrimination suit against Buford City Schools and former superintendent Geye Hamby, a U.S. magistrate has recommended.
Judge Walter Johnson also recommended audio recordings at the heart of the suit should be admissible.
“Should the presiding district court judge (Eleanor Ross) nevertheless have doubts about the admissibility of these recordings, (the judge) may conduct a … hearing before they are played to the jury,” Johnson says in the 131-page report filed May 12.
In a suit filed in 2018 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, paraprofessional Mary Ingram alleges racial bias by the school system in her June 2017 firing.
To bolster her claims, she submitted recordings in which Hamby is alleged to have gone on a racial rant.
“In these recordings, a voice attributed to Dr. Hamby angrily exclaims that black temporary workers are not working on a construction site,” Johnson’s report says.
“The recordings include two separate conversations in which a voice attributed to Dr. Hamby uses (a racial slur) a total of eight times.”
Hamby has “testified that, given the media attention focused on the recordings, he elected to resign,” the judge’s report says. “Although Dr. Hamby asserts that it is not his voice heard on the audio recordings, he admits that it ‘sounds like him.’”
Johnson’s report also notes that the Buford Board of Education issued a statement in August 2018 to parents, students and staff that says: “We would like to apologize for the actions of our former superintendent. His language in no way reflects the sentiments of the Board of Education or School District.
“We recognize the hurt, anger and frustration the events of last week caused our students, parents and community. Racism is not condoned or acceptable in any manner.”
The relationship between Ingram and Hamby began to deteriorate, according to the lawsuit, when in 2014 Ingram noticed that the color gold was excluded from the school district’s white and green emblem and school apparel.
Ingram started a petition asking for gold trim to be included in the school district’s colors, as it had been since the city’s schools were integrated in 1969 to reflect the colors of the former all-black schools, the lawsuit states.
Ingram graduated from the integrated high school in 1970.
According to the lawsuit, Ingram presented the petition to the board of education and was encouraged to attend board meetings, as well as city commission meetings, to address concerns from the black community.
However, Ingram alleges that Hamby and other school leaders asked her to reveal what information she might say at these meetings prior to her attendance, which she refused to do.
Between 2014 and 2017, Ingram began receiving several critiques in her performance reviews. For example, a 2015 review asked Ingram to “please adhere to procedures for representing Buford Academy outside of school.”
Following another performance review in April 2017, according to the lawsuit, Ingram responded that she felt she was being retaliated against.
In June 2017, Ingram was terminated for being “perceived as being disrespectful, argumentative and unfriendly and not a good fit in a school environment,” according to the lawsuit.
Johnson’s report states that in June 2018, the Buford school system told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Ingram “was fired for cause.”
In response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the school system have said “all actions taken with respect to the plaintiff were for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons.”
In response to Johnson’s report, Buford school system spokeswoman Kerri Leland said Wednesday, June 3, that the district “does not have an official comment due to this being ongoing litigation.”
Lawyers for the school system, Hamby and Pulley also couldn’t be reached for comment. Also, Hamby’s lead attorney, Edward Buckley, couldn’t be reached for comment.