The Department of Justice (DOJ) has helped a public-school administrator get a hefty settlement after being reprimanded then dismissed for refusing to enforce the student dress code because he felt it discriminated against African Americans. Additionally, the taxpayer-funded school district in a Columbus, Ohio suburb will pay to conduct a variety of annual anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation trainings with materials pre-approved by the feds. The DOJ claims the school district violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it “discriminated and retaliated” against the administrator, who is African American, for opposing discriminatory employment practices. Under the consent decree announced this week, the district will pay the administrator, Amon-Ra Dobbins, $200,000 and clean his employment record. “No employee should face discipline or reprisals for filing a complaint regarding a dress code policy that may be causing harm to Black students,” the federal prosecutor who handled the case for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
Dobbins was an assistant principal in the Groveport Madison Local School District’s only high school. He began his career in the district with an enrollment of about 5,600 as a teacher in 2001 and was promoted to assistant principal in 2017. His duties as assistant principal included addressing discipline-related issues, resolving student conduct violations, creating a discipline strategy with other administrators, ensuring other administrators and teachers consistently enforced school and district student conduct rules, supervising the high school’s security staff and interpreting district policies regulating student behavior such as the dress code. The complaint, filed by the federal government on Dobbins’s behalf, centers around the district dress code, which states the following: “No hoods, hats, coats, bandannas, and sunglasses may be worn in [the] school building or class[.]”
The code also prohibits head coverings known as du-rags and bonnets, which are scarves worn on the head with the ends tied together at the back. “They are typically worn by African-American males to preserve their hair’s pattern after brushing it,” according to the DOJ complaint. “Similarly, bonnets are typically worn by African-American females to preserve their hairstyle, especially during sleep.” In his role as the high school administrator in charge of discipline, Dobbins grew concerned that the dress code was discriminatory towards black students, the complaint states. The assistant principal “noticed a pattern of teachers disproportionately referring African-American students for discipline because of the District’s interpretation of the Dress Code to prohibit du-rags,” the court document says, adding that Dobbins was also concerned the dur-rag prohibition resulted in teachers and administrators disproportionately enforcing the dress code against African American students wearing the prohibited head scarfs. “As a result, Dobbins believed the District’s interpretation of the Dress Code was a targeted, discriminatory practice that violated the rights of African-American students and required him to enforce, as part of his job duties, discrimination towards them,” according to the complaint.
District officials gave Dobbins a written reprimand after visiting the campus and seeing students wearing du-rags. The notice reminded the administrator that permitting du-rags and bonnets was an example of failing to follow the Board of Education’s policies and procedures. Dobbins blew off the notice, instead advocating for a change to the dress code so that African American student would no longer be subjected to discipline for wearing du-rags and he would not be required to disproportionately discipline them based on their race. He continued to allow the head scarfs, the district put him on administrative leave and did not renew his contract. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, investigated Dobbins’s discrimination claims and referred the case to the DOJ. The agency points out in its complaint that the vast majority of administrators, teachers and staff in the Groveport Madison Local School District are white and that Dobbins was only one of two “non-white administrators” and the only African American.
Dobbins is currently teaching a course called “multicultural mastery” at a private college in Ashland, Ohio. Here is the course description: “During this course the participants will examine the urban experience and multicultural views to help establish anti-racism mindsets. As we dive deeper into the context of how trauma is a universal human experience that demands care and attention and how it can be managed through specific practices and approaches.”