MUNCIE, Ind. — A former Muncie Community Schools human resources director — who claims in a lawsuit that Superintendent Steve Baule created a hostile work environment — is facing a comparable allegation against her in an unrelated lawsuit.
Kathy Ray, the former HR director who is now an elementary school principal in Yorktown, asserts in a federal-court lawsuit filed in December that Baule regularly made sexist, racist and intimidating remarks, forcing her resignation on Sept. 8, 2016.
While checking the status of that litigation, The Star Press learned that Ndubuisi Anukwuem, a Biafran-American who had been a substitute teacher at MCS, has accused Ray and other administrators of prejudice, hostile work environment and wrongful termination in a different federal lawsuit.
The school corporation is named as the lone defendant in Anukwuem’s civil rights lawsuit. Ray is not named individually. Ray’s civil rights lawsuit names the school corporation and school board as defendants. Baule is not named individually.
Anukwuem says he supposedly was terminated for “sexually explicit materials, sexually explicit jokes, magic, bad word, and such; all twisted, misguided and distorted prejudices.”
According to his complaint, Anukwuem believes the school district stopped using him as a substitute teacher for the following reasons:
• On May 24, 2016, a Northside Middle School student threw what looked like tiny colored pebbles in his direction when he briefly turned his back on the class. The whole class burst into laughter. Anukwuem asked, “Who threw that at me?” A student answered, “Use your magic to find out.”
“In my peculiar sense of humor, I immediately looked intently at the class and said that the pebbles were going to rise and stream into the culprit’s eyes until they owned up,” Anukwuem said in a complaint. While he was known to many students as “The Magic Teacher,” administrators “made no attempt to understand what the tricks entailed” and instead “imported their own imaginations.”
• On Sept. 1, 2015, a student asked where Anukwuem came from, because of his accent. He showed them Biafra on the map and images he Googled of Biafran-genocide. Some images were of war-torn, dying and starving children, “not unlike images of The Holocaust … Many teachers have encouraged me to share the story with students to broaden their horizon. It was done with a clean heart.
” … how anyone can look at sick, emaciated pictures of children and associate that to lewdness is beyond sick and in fact the real problem. I’m distressed by the ease with which I’m victimized by racist and sexually obsessed administrators …”
• On April 29, 2016, students in his class were watching “Up,” an animated comedy-drama film, chosen by their regular teacher. Anukwuem was not paying much attention to the film, until students started laughing, joking and becoming visibly excited.
“I asked why they were laughing,” Anukwuem wrote. “Then I looked at the screen, and there was a goat-like creature on top of a dog as if molesting the dog. I verbalized what I believed was the reason the class was excited. ‘Oh, is it because it seems the goat was raping the dog?’ I remarked and snapped back to what I was doing.”
• On May 4, 2016, a student who habitually tries to take advantage of substitute teachers moved his desk in such a way that “he was in everyone’s face.” The student showed no interest in doing the paper that had been passed out, had no pencil, “simply didn’t care” and was laughing.
When Anukwuem instructed the student to realign his desk so he could focus on his work, the student moved the desk an inch. “I said move it! And he asked, ‘Move what?’ I said move the ‘darn table’ … Oops! Curse word! Word got to the administrators who by now had amassed enough distorted petty ‘reports’ to unleash their racial animus and prejudice.”
Anukwuem says he never learned exactly why he was fired, other than “reports” that Ray claimed were amassed against him. “When I asked the HR director what these complaints were, she would not tell me …Efforts to get her to substantiate her claims have proved futile.”
The lawsuit claims Ray “secretly blocked” Anukwuem from substitute teaching “and never divulged why or what if anything could be done to address any prevailing concerns.”
“Muncie Community Schools claimed it received a series of reports over a period of about 20 months but never followed due process or any steps whatsoever to establish the veracity of the allegations,” the lawsuit said, accusing Ray of working in tandem with other administrators to “unceremoniously block plaintiff due to prejudice.”
Anukwuem, who resides in Anderson, filed the lawsuit in Indianapolis, representing himself without the help of an attorney, on March 31, 2017. A year later, on March 14, attorney Andrew Dutkanych, Evansville, entered an appearance in the lawsuit on Anukwuem’s behalf. On April 30, attorney Ryan Sullivan of Indianapolis also joined Anukwuem’s legal team.
Ray did not return phone messages from The Star Press, nor did attorneys representing the school corporation. Those attorneys on June 13, 2017, filed their answer to the complaint, acknowledging Ray was HR director and Anukwuem was a substitute teacher but denying there were any violations of state or federal law.
“All actions taken by defendants with respect to plaintiff were based on factors other than race and national origin,” the school corporation attorneys wrote.
Since the school corporation filed its defense, a pre-trial conference was held on Aug. 15, 2017; a status conference was held on Nov. 8, 2017; a settlement conference was canceled; the school corporation was given an extension of time to produce documents and answer questions; another status conference was held on Jan. 11; another settlement conference was scheduled and then continued; and another status conference was held on April 4. No further orders have been entered since then.
Ray’s lawsuit against MCS accuses Baule of regularly making sexist, racist and intimidating remarks, such as, “I will dance on (teachers union leader) Pat Kennedy’s grave, and I will dig her grave with her skull;” “I have big hands — as an insinuation of his penis size;” and “I came down because I thought there needed to be another white person in this group (during a meeting of minority administrators).”
In their answer to Ray’s lawsuit, school corporation attorneys said Ray, who is white, “has not stated a claim for racial harassment;” “has not alleged that she was the target of unlawful harassment; at best she is what the Supreme Court has identified as an ‘accidental’ victim;” “has not alleged that she suffered harassment based on her race;” and “wants to use Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) as a means to recover for language that she found rude and offensive, but the Supreme Court has specifically rejected that notion.”
The school corporation’s defense attorneys concluded: “Plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim and her claim based on the miscellaneous ‘unprofessional’ comments should be dismissed.”
The defense’s exhibit list includes Ray’s resignation notice and her exit conference documents, photos of the school corporation’s district-wide administrators; and a lawsuit filed by Ray and others against MCS after the district ended its early retirement incentive.
Contact Seth Slabaugh at (765) 213-5834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.