By Kendall McGee | July 22, 2020 at 3:45 PM EDT – Updated July 22 at 7:53 PM
BURGAW, N.C. (WECT) – Pender County NAACP president Reverend Dante Murphy has filed an EEOC complaint against the Pender County Board of Education on behalf of the Pender High teacher and basketball coach that brought to light allegations two different school staff members used racially insensitive language.
The complaint was emailed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Tuesday and faxed to the Charlotte Division of the EEOC on Wednesday. The complaint says whistleblower Ray Hankins has faced intimidation and retaliation by the attorney hired by the school district.
The district says they were notified of Hankins’ post on social media alleging inappropriate racial comments by other staff members at Pender High School on June 8.
The public Facebook post was posted on the coach’s personal page and included a photo of a handwritten list of names with a racial slur next to names of some students and also a screengrab of an email that describes an exchange where another staff member used the same racial slur in a conversation with a student.
The board of education opted not to utilize the services of Schwartz and Shaw, the law firm contracted to work with the school board.
The board reportedly directed Blue LLC, “to conduct, as quickly as possible, a thorough, efficient, and complete investigation without compromising the integrity of the investigation for any reason.”
The reverend says the NAACP was concerned when the school board announced they decided to bring in Blue Law Firm. School boards have the power to hold their own hearings under oath to get to the bottom of any issues.
Murphy adds he’s concerned about the transparency of an investigation led by a law firm where leaders have attorney client privilege and can decide what details about the investigation are made public.
“That is one of the major problems that we had with this investigation from the beginning, is that you’re spending thousands of dollars and people do not understand these investigations cost upwards of 20 $30,000 to complete, and the board had the power by law is sitting alone, that they could have subpoenaed witnesses and ask questions and got to the truth very quickly, but they refused to do it because there’s too much transparency,” said Reverend Dante Murphy.
The basis of the EEOC complaint filed this week hinges on an email sent by Blue Law Firm’s attorney to coach Hankins.
In the email, the attorney reportedly told Hankins he was required to talk to the school’s attorney as part of the state’s professional standards of professional conduct.
In the email, the law the attorney cited as to why Hankins had to talk to the team of attorneys meant he was under investigation for reporting his colleagues’ behavior, however, Hankins has never been informed he was under investigation.
Murphy alleges the attorney was either using misleading information to push the teacher to talk — a case of intimidation — or the teacher is now under investigation for calling out the behavior of his colleagues — a case of retaliation.
“The Blue Firm sought to retaliate against Mr. Ray Hankins with fear and intimidation by threatening Mr. Hankins with false and misleading information,” Rev. Murphy wrote in the complaint to the EEOC.
Murphy says he believes the email was an act of retaliation, targeting Hankins for going public with the allegations against his fellow Pender High School staff members.
“One thing the complaint will accomplish is that it will give Ray Hankins further protections from any retaliation. We know that when these things happen within systems, that oftentimes people are retaliated against. And there are time limits on these reports. I’m not- It’s not up to me to make the decision as to whether the allegations in the report to the EEOC is actually enough to bring calls, but we want to make sure that it’s thoroughly investigated by a body that truly is independent,” said Reverend Dante Murphy.
Now that a complaint has been filed with the EEOC, the office will review the complaint and determine whether or not they will launch an investigation. If it’s picked up for investigation, the agency has 180 days to complete their investigation into whether or not discrimination occurred.
In addition to the EEOC complaint, Reverend Murphy says he plans to file a complaint with the NC Bar Association.
“This email that was sent to Ray Hankins must be investigated by the proper people and we have the EEOC that’s going to do their part. But that only protects the teacher. We are now wanting the North Carolina Bar to examine why was this misleading statement made to a teacher and a person that is a whistle blower? And we want this teacher to be able to grow Old, finish out his career and do what he can for children. And hopefully it will be the children of Pender county”
Pender County Schools issued the following statement Wednesday in response to questions submitted by WECT:
“On June 12, the Pender County Board of Education unanimously voted to hire Blue LLP to conduct an independent investigation of allegations made by a school system employee on social media regarding inappropriate racial terms allegedly used by staff at Pender High School. The Board chose to use outside counsel to avoid any appearance of conflict. Blue LLP is recognized for its outstanding work across North Carolina in an array of legal matters, including representing the NAACP and serving educational institutions. Retaining Blue LLP is allowing for an independent investigation of this matter. Their findings will be presented to the Board of Education upon completion.
The Board’s subpoena power is not the choice of first resort in conducting an investigation, but is generally reserved for hearings, if necessary. The Board cannot issue subpoenas without first obtaining court approval.
All school employees are expected to cooperate in any school system investigation.
No employee has been retaliated against for any reason. Any allegations to the contrary are false. The Board has specific prohibitions against retaliation for any protected activity.
As the investigation remains ongoing, Pender County Schools cannot comment further on that process at this time. The district remains committed to fostering an inclusive environment for all students, staff and stakeholders.”
When we reached out to Hankins for comment, his attorney, Jim Lea, confirmed he had legal representation and they were unable to comment further on the complaint at this time.
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