Hamlett files federal lawsuit attempting to keep her job

Claims of racism, violation of 1st Amendment among case allegations

Dr. Versie Hamlett

by Danny Wade

In a turn of events, Dr. Versie Hamlett may not be leaving Humboldt City Schools after all. Dr. Hamlett is fighting for her job, and fighting for her good name and reputation.

On Monday, March 30, documents were filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Eastern Division. Dr. Hamlett has retained the services of attorneys Justin S. Gilbert and Lewis Cobb to represent her in federal court.

“I am so grateful to the community. I just feel like I owe it to the students, the teachers, the administration and our city to try and stand for what is right,” Dr. Hamlett stated. “They have always stood with me. It is not always easy, but nothing worth truly fighting for ever is.”

Gilbert filed the complaint Monday morning and later filed a motion of temporary injunction, along with a memorandum in support of the motion of temporary injunction.

Defendants on the case are the city of Humboldt and the city of Humboldt Board of Education. Gilbert explained that the city had to be listed as a defendant since Humboldt City Schools is part of the city.

Gilbert said Hamlett was voted out because she refused to fire loyal white employees. The lawsuit seeks to block the school board from replacing Dr. Hamlett until the matter can be fully heard and decided in federal court.

The complaint only lists one school board member, Leon McNeal, with accusations of racism.

According to the complaint document, the lawsuit was filed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), involves the city of Humboldt’s Board of Education and its director of schools, Dr. Versie Hamlett. In December of 2019, the city’s school board voted its intention not to renew Dr. Hamlett’s contract and, instead, to replace her in June of 2020.

McNeal demanded, in order to have Dr. Hamlett’s contract renewed, she must ‘clean house’ by firing qualified white educators and replacing them with black educators, according to the complaint. This is a violation of federal and state law.

Leon McNeal

“Dr. Hamlett reported to Mr. Leon McNeal, an African American on the Humboldt school board. Mr. McNeal hold strong negative views about white educators. He supported Dr. Hamlett’s hiring because he believed— mistakenly—that she could become his tool to remove white educators in favor of blacks. He provided her names of white persons he wanted fired, and the names of black replacements, simply because of their race,” as stated in case documents submitted to federal court.

“Mr. McNeal believed that he could confide his beliefs in Dr. Hamlett. He openly stated that Humboldt’s black children could not be taught by white teachers. He wanted “blacks taught by blacks.” He claimed the white teachers did not know how to teach black children, they were not helping the black children, and the whites were responsible for a “school to prison pipeline” for blacks. He wanted blacks hired, even if unlicensed, stating that Dr. Hamlett ‘could do whatever she wanted’.”

“Mr. McNeal soon discovered that Dr. Hamlett would not be anyone’s tool for discrimination and that his views on race were decidedly different than hers. Dr. Hamlett explained to him that the civil rights movement stood for integration, not re-segregation, and that firing white persons because of race was just as illegal as firing black persons because of race. On a more basic level, she said he would get the city sued over and over. And she engaged a board attorney to submit her a letter explaining that unlicensed educators cannot simply be hired to replace licensed educators.”
Dr. Hamlett had contemporaneously documented on notes cards, dating to 2016, some of McNeal’s requests about firing.

“In 2019, Humboldt’s Board of Education considered renewing Dr. Hamlett’s three-year contract as director of schools. Dr. Hamlett refused the consistent demands of a black board member, Mr. Leon McNeal, that she fire the white employees and replace them with black employees, because, in his view, only blacks can educate blacks. McNeal instructed her to fire a list of white employees before he would vote to renew her contract; to fire a list of white district employees because they would not ‘help our black kids’ and that she must ‘get rid of them’; and he told Dr. Hamlett that her own ‘head is on the chopping block’ after she hired a white principal,” as stated in the lawsuit’s motion for temporary injunction.

“Dr. Hamlett refused to engage in this racism and, as a result, McNeal gave a deciding vote not to renew her contract. But for her race, and but for her refusal to terminate white employees simply because of their race, Dr. Hamlett’s contract would have been renewed. Dr. Hamlett enjoys wide community support, educators’ support, student support, and administration support. The board’s vote—harming not only Dr. Hamlett but the community—was infected and tainted by race and racial retaliation.”

Gilbert said Dr. Hamlett’s motive for filing the lawsuit is not monetary, but to keep her current position. She’s doing this for the love of the community and the love of the students.

“The community outpouring was just so overwhelming. In 25 years practicing law, I’d never seen anything like it,” Gilbert said of Dr. Hamlett, the support of the community. “Based on the evidence, we feel she has an excellent federal case.”

 

13 Comments

  1. Tommy Goodrum on March 31, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    Excellent article!

  2. Linda Sampson on March 31, 2020 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Hamlett for standing your ground. There are white people in the community who love the children and do many things to help that are not educators. You have done a wonderful job uniting our community. I pray that you will continue to be here. God bless you.

  3. Velma Lofton on March 31, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Dr. Hamlet is one of the finest educators I have ever known. She has always cared deeply for her students and co-workers. Humboldt is so fortunate to have her.

  4. Kellie (Presgrove) Evins on March 31, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    I graduated from Humboldt High School in May of 1990. In my opinion, that was one of the last years of that school being a wonderful place to be educated. It has been heartbreaking to see the decline of the school system there. I pray this brilliant woman gets the opportunity to turn things around for the children of Humboldt and that the school sees a rise in spirit and accomplishment! And I pray the incompetence on the board is thrown out with the rest of the trash.
    Come on, Alma mater….you can do better! In the words of the late and great “Coach Po”, “JUST DO RIGHT”!

  5. Diane Wright on March 31, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you Dr. Hamlet!! Keep fighting back. The future of our school system is at stake. We have wonderful staff and the fact they support you says a lot. Mr. McNeal needs to re-read the oath he took when sworn in.

  6. Gail Smith on March 31, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    I want to thank Dr Hamlett for her strong effort.
    I appreciate the fact that she is not persuaded
    To follow acts of racism. This shows our community she is not a racist and has all students best interest at heart. Seems to me the
    City of Humboldt needs to rise up to the occasion and continue to support Dr. Hamlett
    And Make decisions that are based on the well being of our humboldt Students and teachers.
    Black or white is not ,nor should be the deciding factor. Our children deserve no less than the best education we can provide them.
    #standstrong#standtogether#standhumboldt

  7. Debbie Sharp Vinson on March 31, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    I graduated from HHS and I have been following her work in Humboldt and I know a lot of people from Humboldt!!! From everything I’ve heard she’s done a wonderful job!!!! Dr. Hamlet, I pray you win your fight and remain in Humboldt !!!! Love and prayers!!!!

  8. Robert Williams on March 31, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you Dr. Hamlet for your hard work and your love for the students. You are a wonderful educator and leader. Humbolt loves and supports you. I am so glad you stood your ground for the right reasons. Racism has no place in our city, our state nor in our country. God bless you.

  9. phillip fitzgerald on March 31, 2020 at 6:47 pm

    l agree with all the statements above. Good luck Dr. Hamlet

  10. Harry Davidson on March 31, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    Go get him Sup

  11. Gladys on March 31, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    Way to stand up for what’s right!!!

  12. Tommie McCurrie on April 1, 2020 at 10:05 am

    What type of mess is this going on there in the Humboldt school system. I went through this school system and graduated with honors. This use to be a really good system. The schools were full of “Viking Pride” and now the board members (at least 3 of them) are making a mockery of the school system. Makes me ashamed to acknowledge to people that I am a alumni of HHS.😔 I have grandchildren and other relatives in this system and this really puts there education in jeopardy. YOU CANNOT TERMINATE FOR NO REASON NEITHER CAN YOU HIRE NON-QUALIFIED CANDIDATES!!! COME ONE PEOPLE THIS CHILDISH BEHAVIOR WILL HURT THE CHILDREN IN THE LONG RUN.
    Now, there might be some “bad” teachers in the system, weed the out if you have to and replace them with “Qualified, Caring, Respectful” teachers and staff. Dr Hamlett you “Keep Fighting”!!! It should not be about race!!
    I support you, Mr Hodge, and Coach “Mac”.

  13. Eddie Jones on April 7, 2020 at 2:53 am

    Leon McNeal is a racist. He should not be on the school board. The black People should be embarrassed by McNeal’s racist comments—-black students should be taught by black teachers? What a stupid and crazy position. Dr. Hamlett is going to win her lawsuit and keep her position; and get paid.

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