AP NEWS

Former Mississippi school superintendent sues over firing

December 29, 2018

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — A former school superintendent in northeast Mississippi is suing, claiming his firing was motivated by retaliation and racial prejudice.

Philip Hickman filed suit Dec. 21 in federal court in Aberdeen against the Columbus school district and three board members — Jason Spears, Josie Shumake and Fredrick Sparks. Hickman and Sparks are black, while Spears and Shumake are white.

Hickman filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which did not make a finding of racial discrimination. Hickman filed his complaint at the three-month deadline following the EEOC finding.

The school district tells The Commercial Dispatch that Hickman is rehashing “the same false allegations” he made in the EEOC complaint and says it will fight the suit.

“School board members did not say the things that Dr. Hickman claims that they said and will vigorously defend the school board and district in federal court,” the district said in a statement.

Hickman is demanding the district pay him for lost wages and emotional distress, and also make a public apology. He was superintendent from 2014 until he was fired in February.

In a letter filed with the complaint, Hickman alleges multiple occasions when board members threatened or made racial comments toward him. He says at different points in the letter that he felt intimidated, concerned for his career and “sick and afraid to attend board meetings.”

“I was constantly under scrutiny based on my race and not my performance, but I stayed to finish my contract out for the best interest of the children,” Hickman wrote. No lawyer is listed and Hickman requests a waiver of filing fees, citing lack of money.

In the letter, Hickman said Spears and Shumake both made racist comments to him. He listed several examples of such comments from Spears, among them that Spears once said he would “never send his kids to this all black district” and that “the problem with the district is too many black people in charge.”

“Anyone who knows me realizes I don’t make these type of statements and don’t have those beliefs,” Spears said.

Hickman’s letter said Shumake talked to him shortly after joining the board in 2015, alleging she told him she had been observing him and that he acted “too black.”

Shumake declined comment.

Hickman said Sparks voted to fire Hickman as retaliation after Hickman suspended Sparks’ son from school for smoking marijuana. Hickman added Sparks threatened to “show him who was boss” when Hickman asked him once if he was asleep during a board meeting.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com