2nd lawsuit filed challenging NH anti-discrimination laws

December 21, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A second lawsuit representing teachers and two administrators has been filed against New Hampshire officials over the state’s new anti-discrimination laws, saying that educators are confused about what they can legally teach and train, and risk losing their jobs if they unwittingly violate the laws.

The National Education Association-New Hampshire, which represents the majority of all public school employees in the state, and two diversity, equity and inclusion school administrators, sued New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, Commission on Human Rights Chair Christian Kim and Executive Director Ahni Malachi, and Labor Commissioner Kenneth Merrifield in federal court on Monday.

The group is represented by a broad coalition of lawyers, including those representing the ACLU of New Hampshire, the Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

The “Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination” provision prohibits teaching children that they are inferior, racist, sexist or oppressive by virtue of their race, gender or other characteristics. The “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education” prohibits training sessions or programs teaching that one identified group possesses “natural biological, or innate characteristics as opposed to apparent or accidental characteristics” that make them inferior, racist, sexist or oppressive.

The laws allow disciplinary action to be taken against teachers who violate them.

An earlier version of the legislation echoed a now-rescinded Trump administration order that sought to ban discussion of “divisive concepts” in schools.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the laws unconstitutional and bar its enforcement, similar to a suit filed last week by the AFT-New Hampshire union, three high school teachers; and two parents.

One of the plaintiffs in the new case, Andres Mejia, is director of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at the Exeter Region Cooperative School District. He conducts staff trainings on concepts such as implicit and institutional bias, racism, belonging, and inclusiveness. Because the law is ambiguous, he will potentially subject himself to a complaint, the lawsuit said.

Mejia also fields inquiries from teachers as to whether certain books, video content, curriculum, materials and information — as well as what a teacher would say — would be banned. He said he is unable to answer those questions under the current laws.

“This law chills the very type of diversity, equity, and inclusion work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that each student is seen, heard, and connected, especially as New Hampshire becomes more diverse,” Mejia said in a statement with co-plaintiff Christina Kim Philibotte, the chief equity officer for the Manchester School District.

Merrifield referred comment to the attorney general’s office, which said it is “reviewing the complaint and will defend these laws.” The Education Department and Human Rights Commission said last week it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.