The Lexington public school system is settling with a former METCO social worker who sued the district, alleging she was fired after she raised concerns with administrators about numerous issues of racial insensitivity in the schools.
Lexington Public Schools will pay Julia Finley an undisclosed six-figure amount in damages, according to a press release from the firm Lawyers for Civil Rights, which represented the former social worker in the lawsuit.
“Ms. Finley was a Black professional in a predominately white school, and her job involved addressing issues of diversity and inclusion,” Sophia Hall, one of Finley’s attorneys, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the moment the school district realized that Ms. Finley was not content to handle issues superficially, but was instead committed to actually rooting out institutional racism that stood in the way of METCO students’ educational opportunity, they engineered her termination.”
According to the law firm, Finley had been working in the Lexington school district for almost 15 years as a teaching and behavioral assistant when she was selected in January 2013 to serve as a METCO social worker. METCO is a state-funded, voluntary desegregation program that transports students from Boston and Springfield to participating suburban public schools.
Shortly after she took on the position, Finley reported to school administrators that she observed METCO students being teased by their peers with racially insensitive remarks, such as “big lips,” her lawyers said. The social worker also informed administrators that she witnessed teachers referring to young METCO students with “racially connotative terms,” referring to boys as “aggressive” and girls as “sassy.” She told them teachers were not encouraging METCO students to achieve high academic standards, and, when she reported the incidents, Finley shared materials on institutional racism with school staff, according to her lawyers.
In her lawsuit against the district, Finley alleged that after she reported the incidents, the school began a campaign to terminate her employment, according to LCR. She was fired in the spring of 2014.
“In her 15 years of employment with Lexington, Ms. Finley had never received any formal discipline,” her lawyers said. “Yet after she raised troubling racial incidents to the administration’s attention, she received a disciplinary letter noting purported performance deficiencies that contributed to a poor final evaluation and ultimately led to her termination.”
According to the statement from LCR, at the time of Finley’s application for the METCO position, about four percent of the student population in the Lexington district was black.
“One moment I had my dream job working with students of color to ensure that they could receive a good education, and I was being nominated for a District award for showing an extraordinary commitment to diversity in Lexington,” Finley said in a statement released by her lawyers. “The next moment, I was unemployed simply because I did my job.”
Requests for comment on the settlement from Lexington Public Schools and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education were not immediately returned.