Employees appeal order to pay legal fees for challenging ‘anti-racist’ training

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Employees appeal order to pay legal fees for challenging ‘anti-racist’ training

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Two women who sued a Missouri school district over required equity training were ordered to pay the district’s six-figure legal fees, a move their lawyers said is “clearly intended to punish.”

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Harpool ordered Jennifer Lumley and Brooke Henderson on March 31 to pay Springfield Public Schools $312,869 in legal fees, writing that the district spent significant time and tax dollars on defense that “would have been better spent ensuring educational opportunities for students.”

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Now, the plaintiffs have appealed Harpool’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, according to a notice filed on Friday.

The women are “vigorously appealing the judge’s $313k attorney fee order which is clearly intended to punish them and shut the courthouse doors to anyone, teachers and parents alike, who seeks to challenge and stop their school district from fighting back to save America’s schools,” Kimberly Hermann, general counsel at Southeastern Legal Foundation, told the Washington Examiner.

Lumley and Henderson, who still work for the district, claimed the racial equity training they were required to partake in the 2020-21 school year violated their First Amendment rights and would require them to become “anti-racist educators,” according to their lawsuit.

The pair contend their First Amendment rights were violated when the training program “compelled their speech,” according to Hermann, who said the training “required them to affirm that colorblindness was a tool of white supremacy.”

The training “discriminated against them when it forced them into silence for disagreeing with the district,” Hermann added. The pair of employees were also told their pay would be docked if they didn’t go through with the training.

Critical race theory, a term to describe U.S. history studies through the lens of racism, is not mentioned in their suit. But the women claim terms such as equity and other terminology used in the training are synonymous for the theory, which they argue conditions “individuals to see each other’s skin color first and foremost.”

Harpool, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, said the litigants were trying to goad the school district into a political dispute rather than seeking damages for actual harm.

“This court is a forum for litigation of genuine disputes of fact and law alone, rather than frivolous political disagreement,” Harpool wrote.

District spokesman Stephen Hall said school officials were pleased that the judge found the plaintiffs’ lawsuit frivolous and expects “the appeal process will reach the same determination.”

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Combating their lawsuit and seeking “appropriate reimbursement represents a broader commitment to defending itself against baseless attacks,” the district spokesman said.

The 8th Circuit has not set any time for a hearing, and the plaintiffs’ counsel expect briefing in the case to begin filing in May.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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