A fired coach and administrator from the Douglas County School District filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against his former employer, alleging he fired him for his religious beliefs about a well-known theater production. known.
Corey McNellis was fired from Parker’s Ponderosa High School in October 2020 after exchanging emails with colleagues about “The Laramie Project,” a play that follows the aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man from Wyoming.
In the lawsuit, McNellis says he asked the school’s theater director what recourse he had if he “didn’t agree with the production,” both as an employee and as a father. ‘a student.
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After staff exchanged emails about the piece, McNellis’ suit states, he responded again and “offered to provide a Christian perspective” on the subject; a colleague had already offered to provide a “social studies perspective”. The lawsuit does not specify exactly what McNellis wrote in his email or whether he sent any additional emails. McNellis declined to comment Thursday when asked what he said or what he meant.
According to the lawsuit, the email exchange between McNellis and other staffers took place on a Friday. McNellis was then told on Saturday to stay home the following Monday. He was later placed on leave while district officials investigate. Nearly three weeks after the initial email exchange, he was notified that he had been fired, according to the suit.
In an email to The Denver Gazette, he said comments were solicited on the piece and he was concerned about its potential impact on students. He said he looked forward to a jury “examining the facts of the case” and that his career had been ruined.
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The lawsuit also describes an email McNellis had sent “as a parent” about the district’s COVID-19 protocols, and another message district officials had received regarding McNellis’ alleged involvement in a “good old boys club” in high school.
Her costume describes the piece as “religiously charged”. The production focuses on the response of members of the Laramie community to the murder of Shepard, who was beaten and left for dead because of his sexuality; some characters refer to their religious beliefs.
In an email to staff named in the lawsuit, the high school theater director described the play as being aimed at high school and older students. She wrote that these were “about perspectives, and we wouldn’t want anyone at the school to believe that we are making a statement against anything other than hate and violence.”
In her lawsuit, McNellis alleges that her firing was both discrimination and retaliation for her religious beliefs; he claims he was treated differently from the others who had also been accused of being in the “good old boys club” and that he had no disciplinary black marks prior to the email regarding the play. His comments on the play, he said, are protected by the First Amendment.
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In a statement, the Douglas County School District said it was reviewing the lawsuit and that it “respects the rights of its employees to freely practice a religion of their choice, or not, and has put in place policies which prohibit discrimination based on religion”. .”
The lawsuit was filed against the district and against Cathy Franklin, its director of human resources.
The lawsuit is the latest to be filed against the district in recent months. The school board is facing its own lawsuit over allegations that it violated the state’s open meeting law in anticipation of firing its former superintendent. The district has also been taken to court for its refusal to hand over certain records.