A former Middleton High School employee is suing the school district, alleging she was passed over for a job because she is a white woman and was ultimately fired in retaliation after lodging an internal discrimination complaint.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Tuesday, claims the Middleton-Cross Plains School District violated Ruth Herbin’s civil rights in the job search process, during which dean of students Matthew Ecklund allegedly told her that she had “no chance” at filling vacant positions at the high school because “we need more diversity.”
According to the lawsuit, Ecklund, who Herbin worked under as an assistant, allegedly told her “we need some big black men working here” when she expressed interest in applying for one of three openings in a different position at the high school.
The jobs had been held by two black men and a Latina woman before they left the school, the lawsuit said, and the district hired two black men and a black woman to fill the jobs.
According to data submitted to the state Department of Public Instruction, 92.6% of district employees in the 2017-18 school year identified as white.
Perry Hibner, spokesman for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, declined comment Wednesday, saying the district had yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit:
Herbin, who now lives in Las Vegas, was hired by the district in 2007 and eventually became an administrative assistant to the dean of students.
She began to look for other positions within the district when she was told in August 2017 her position was being restructured. Three of the six people on the high school’s campus and student support team, which is focused on creating positive relationships with students and maintaining school security, resigned, “creating a crisis.”
Herbin held a similar job at the high school in 2008 and approached Ecklund about the opportunity when he allegedly told her she had “no chance.”
She filed an internal discrimination complaint and applied for the job two days after Ecklund’s alleged comments.
During an investigation into the complaint, Ecklund said he made comments to Herbin about seeking diverse candidates for the job, the lawsuit said. He also said a search committee was looking to hire the most qualified people, according to the lawsuit.
Even though Herbin’s previous role “had involved responsibilities similar to those required” for the job she applied for, the search committee, led by Ecklund, “refused to grant her an interview” as the committee members believed she had a “negative attitude,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit said Herbin was called into a meeting in September 2017 with the high school’s principal, Steven Plank, and the director of employee services, Tabatha Gundrum, believing it was going to be about her complaint, when they “began discussing alleged performance concerns arising from years earlier.”
Herbin asked to speak with an attorney and left the meeting. She was fired the next day for “alleged insubordination,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit claims Herbin was discriminated against under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis of her gender and race.
She received a Notice of Right to Sue from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February and is seeking a jury trial to receive an unspecified amount of back pay, compensatory damages and money to cover attorneys’ fees.