Former Lee's Summit Superintendent Didn't Want To Hire Black Spokeswoman, Second Lawsuit Alleges
This story was updated at 2:03 p.m. with a comment from the school district.
Another lawsuit has been filed against the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District alleging racial discrimination during the hiring of spokeswoman last year.
In the lawsuit, Danielle Nixon alleges she did not get the job because of her race. According to court documents, former Superintendent Dennis Carpenter “told the selection committee that he would never hire an African American female for that key role.”
Both Nixon and Carpenter are black. The woman who was hired, Kelly Wachel, is white. Carpenter resigned in July after clashing with the all-white school board over diversity training. His efforts to close the achievement gap for students of color had roiled the district for months, and the board agreed to buy Carpenter out of his contract for $750,000.
Carpenter’s comments during the search for a new public relations professional were already known to the community. Amy Gates, the district’s director of technology, filed a complaint in January alleging Carpenter said, “Can you imagine me walking into a business roundtable meeting with a black female as the second face of the district?”
Carpenter, the district’s first black superintendent who previously served as the superintendent in neighboring Hickman Mills, faced intense scrutiny when he was hired in January 2017. Lee’s Summit is an affluent, majority white suburb, though the district is becoming more diverse. One in four Lee’s Summit students are children of color, and many parents have brought concerns about racial bullying to the school board in recent months.
The plaintiff in the latest lawsuit, Nixon, is currently the director of communications for Raytown Quality Schools, another one of Lee’s Summit neighbors. Like Hickman Mills, Raytown is a majority black district.
According to court documents, not getting the Lee’s Summit job caused Nixon “great emotional upset” and made her lose sleep over whether she could pursue her career. Nixon has worked in public relations since 2010.
She learned about Carpenter’s remarks from the Missouri National Education Association about four months before Gates filed the first lawsuit.
Nixon is seeking relief under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability and age. Per Carpenter’s separation agreement with the district, he must participate in lawsuits that concern his time as superintendent.
“While we would like to provide context to share with the community regarding the district’s response to Ms. Nixon’s allegations, we aren't able to do so because the lawsuit is pending,” a spokeswoman for the district said in a statement.
Nixon could not immediately be reached for comment through her lawyer.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.