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Daily Journal
     April 17, 2020      #64-108 KDJ

Kankakee School Board settles discrimination

By Stephanie Markham

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee School Board has agreed to pay a $3,000 settlement to former Lafayette Primary School principal Lori Holmes who filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging race and gender discrimination.

The board voted in favor of the settlement during a meeting Tuesday that was held via video conference and live-streamed on Facebook due to social distancing guidelines.

Holmes filed suit on Jan. 24, 2018, alleging she was discriminated against on the basis of race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

On Jan. 15, the U.S. District Court Central District of Illinois in Urbana ruled in favor of the school board.

At a February meeting, the school board tabled any action due to the plaintiff’s intention to appeal the ruling.

On Tuesday, District 111 Superintendent Generva Walters said the amount of time and money spent in litigation was a factor in the decision to reach a settlement.

“For us, it was worth it for it to be over,” Walters said. “Most of the work at this point is really done by the attorneys, but it was something we wanted closure to.”

Holmes’ principal position was eliminated at the end of the 2015-16 school year when the school district moved to grade centers.

In its decision, the court said, “Taking all the evidence into account, the court cannot say that the evidence would permit a reasonable fact-finder to conclude the plaintiff’s race caused her discharge.”

When a principal position later opened up at Taft Primary, Holmes applied for that job along with several other applicants.

In her lawsuit, Holmes alleged she was discriminated against based on her gender when the Taft principal job went to a male applicant, Terrence Lee.

In its decision, the court said, “it is clear from the record that Lee was just as, if not more, qualified for the position of Principal at Taft as plaintiff.”

In 2016, Holmes was offered an assistant principal’s job at Kankakee High School so she could be “mentored,” but she declined the appointment. According to court documents, she saw that as a “demotion.”

According to court documents, while Holmes was principal at Lafayette in 2015, she became the subject of a formal grievance initiated by faculty members at the school through their collective bargaining unit, the Kankakee Federation of Teachers.

“Complaints about plaintiff’s management style began surfacing from faculty members at Lafayette Primary School. They claimed the plaintiff had been threatening and bullying staff.”

The school district worked with Holmes to help resolve the faculty’s complaints during the 2015-16 school year. Holmes, in her lawsuit, alleged a hostile work environment based on racial harassment.

The court found that, “Even were the court to consider the claim, none of the evidence adduced demonstrates that a reasonable fact-finder could determine the plaintiff was the victim of a hostile work environment.”

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