Former Teacher Files Discrimination Suit

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MADISON–A former Middleton High School employee alleged in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District that she was told she had “no chance” for a vacant position because “we need some big, black men working here.”

According to suit filed May 21 in federal court:

Ruth M. Herbin had worked as an assistant to a high school Dean for most of the 10 years she was employed by the school district. However, when the district was hiring to fill other similar positions, Herbin was told she wouldn’t be considered because the district needed more diversity. And, after filing a discrimination complaint Herbin, a Caucasian, was fired for alleged insubordination.

In August 2017, the district was restructuring Herbin’s and another assistant’s positions due to lack of clerical work for them at the high school. Instead, the student support positions were being enlarged to include three counselors and social worker.

The district had vacancies in some student support positions at Glacier Creek Middle School and the high school because three employees, Harold Carlson and James Adams, who are black, and Alejandra Vazquez, a Latina, left at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, creating a crisis.

There was conflict and tension among the student support team members including, Carson and Adams, who got into a heated argument which resulted in the district taking an unspecified disciplinary action.

Vazquez, also a team member, had her personal property thrown away twice by another employee, which also resulted in district involvement.

The vacant student support positions dealt with developing good relationships with students and maintaining school security. Herbin believed she would be a good fit for either vacancy because she had developed positive relationships with students and staff at both schools.

Matthew Ecklund, a MHS Dean, headed the hiring committee and told Herbin on August 24, 2017 that she had “no chance” because the district “needed some big black men working here.”

The next day, Herbin filed a race and sex discrimination complaint with the district.

Tabatha Gundrum, the district’s director of employee services, received the complaint which repeated Ecklund allegedly saying she had no chance of being hired, the district needed diversity and black men working there.

Within two weeks, Gundrum and MHS Principal Steven Plank met with Ecklund. Ecklund admitted telling Herbin that the hiring committee was looking for particular types of people, the most qualified candidates, the need for diversity, and it would be beneficial to hire black men because they were replacing positions held by Carson and Adams.

Gundrum and Plank subsequently met with Herbin to discuss her complaint and said that Ecklund had essentially admitted to them what Herbin had alleged in her complaint.

Ecklund wasn’t going to be disciplined for his statements or removed from the hiring committee. Ecklund never consulted any district policies on conducting a candidate search, and no one on the hiring committee had been trained on district policies regarding a candidate search.

Gundrum did tell Herbin that they would meet again to discuss some concerns about her work performance.

To date, Herbin had never received any written warnings during her employment at MHS. She had received good job performance evaluations and raises while employed.

Gundrum and Plank summoned Herbin to Plank’s office on Sept. 14, 2017 and began discussing alleged performance concerns arising from years earlier. Herbin thought they were to discuss her discrimination complaint and asked to speak with an attorney. 

She then left the meeting over Gundrum’s objection. Gundrum and Plank, spoke with District Superintendent George Marvroulis and fired Herbin one day later for alleged insubordination

Herbin filed a complaint with the state’s Equal Rights Division which found probable cause to continue proceedings.

Instead, Herbin filed a federal suit seeking a court order finding the district violated her civil rights on the basis of race and sex discrimination and fired her in retaliation for filing a complaint against the district.

Perry Hibner, spokesperson for the school district, had no comment Thursday on the suit’s allegations. He said that once the district has been served with the suit it will be turned over to the district’s insurer.

Ecklund resigned at the end of the 2018-19 school year, Hibner said.

Herbin moved to Las Vegas after being fired.

Her attorney, Aaron Halsted, was not available for immediate comment on the suit. 

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