Claims of racism, violation of 1st Amendment among case allegations
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.
“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.”