Case: Baker v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District

1:70-cv-00052 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

Filed Date: June 29, 1970

Closed Date: Nov. 13, 1981

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

Before the 1970-1971 school year, the Columbus Municipal Separate School District operated separate schools for black and white students. Faculty placement also depended on race. For example, during the 1969-1970 school year, only five of the 133 black teachers taught in white schools, and only eleven of the 243 white teachers taught in black schools. In August 1970, the District entered into a consent decree with the United States that required it to desegregate. See United States v. Columbus …

Before the 1970-1971 school year, the Columbus Municipal Separate School District operated separate schools for black and white students. Faculty placement also depended on race. For example, during the 1969-1970 school year, only five of the 133 black teachers taught in white schools, and only eleven of the 243 white teachers taught in black schools. In August 1970, the District entered into a consent decree with the United States that required it to desegregate. See United States v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District, 558 F.2d 228 (5th Cir. 1977) (cert. denied).

But the District had already adopted hiring practices to disadvantage first-year black teachers and future black applicants. On January 12, 1970, the District’s Board of Trustees agreed not to renew the employment of teachers in their first year during 1969-1970 who could obtain a score of at least 1000 on the National Teachers Examination (NTE). The Board also decided not to hire any new teachers who did not score at least 1000 on the NTE.

On June 29, 1970, eight black teachers, the National Education Association, and the Mississippi Teachers Association filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. They sued the school district under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought an injunction against the District’s discriminatory hiring policies, declaratory judgment, damages, and attorney’s fees. Specifically, they claimed that the District’s use of NTE scores in hiring decisions violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

Judge Orma R. Smith entered a preliminary injunction on September 8, 1970, directing the District to re-employ the individual plaintiffs during the 1970-1971 school year. He issued a full opinion invalidating the District’s use of an NTE cutoff score on June 23, 1971.

In his opinion, Judge Smith found that the District “acted with a racially discriminatory purpose” in adopting the NTE cutoff score. The District had run a merit pay system for several years based partly on NTE scores. From this experience, the District knew that adopting a minimum NTE score would “eliminate proportionally a much higher percentage of black than white” applicants. The District also refused employment to two black teachers whose scores did not qualify, even though they were exempt from the policy, because they had been hired before the 1969-1970 school year. It allowed a white teacher who did not meet the cutoff to continue teaching. And it refused to hire black candidates who met the score requirement despite having numerous vacancies at the start of the 1970-1971 school year.

Next, Judge Smith found that the NTE cutoff “creates a racial classification” because only 11% of black graduates of Mississippi colleges met the cutoff score, as compared to 90% of whites. He then balanced the District’s interest in using the NTE to improve teaching quality with the test’s discriminatory effects. Judge Smith determined that the test was largely unrelated to the criteria the District itself used to evaluate teachers, including classroom management skills, enthusiasm, professionalism, and work ethic. Even the District’s expert witness “generally agreed” that the there was no demonstrated link between NTE scores and teaching performance. Therefore, Judge Smith concluded that the NTE cutoff score was “an arbitrary and unreasonable qualification” that violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. 329 F. Supp. 706.

In an order issued on the same day, Judge Smith ordered that the individual plaintiffs be reinstated, awarded damages and costs, and enjoined the District from using standardized tests in teacher retention decisions. He also directed the District to hire additional black teachers to maintain the racial balance in the District’s teaching force that existed prior to 1970-1971.

The District appealed. On June 30, 1972, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding. Judge David W. Dyer noted that a school district’s desire to improve its faculty “may be such an overriding purpose” to justify racially disparate effects. But he found that the District adopted its cutoff score “without any investigation or study.” And he rejected the District’s argument that hiring more black teachers would dilute the quality of its faculty because the district court’s order merely required the District to “turn back the faculty clock” and return to its pre-NTE policies. 462 F.2d 1112.

In late 1972 and early 1973, six of the individual plaintiffs entered into private settlements of their damage claims with the District. One individual plaintiff asked the court to calculate her damages, and it awarded her $5,544.90 on February 5, 1974. The court also continued to monitor the racial balance of the District’s faculty.

The individual plaintiff who declined to settle had briefly moved to Kentucky before returning to teach in the District during the 1971-1972 school year. She was not welcomed back with open arms. Instead, her principal assigned her to teach the most disruptive students in the school. He also directed her colleagues to submit written reports of any deviations from policy she might make, including misspelling words on the board, and berated her in front of students. Based on the principal’s recommendation, the District fired the teacher in November 1971. In an oral opinion issued on November 4, 1974, Judge Smith found that plaintiff was “singled out” based on her race and past participation in this lawsuit. He acknowledged that the teacher had been provided a hearing but held that the discharge was “punitive and retaliatory,” entitling her to reinstatement, back pay, and attorney’s fees. 1974 WL 333. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in a decision without opinion. 519 F.2d 1087.

On February 10, 1975, Judge Smith awarded $13,192 in back pay to the teacher as well as $9,946.81 in costs and $50,000 in attorney’s fees to the various plaintiffs. The court also awarded $161.70 in additional costs associated with the second appeal on March 23, 1977.

The case is now closed.

Conard v. Goolsby is a contemporaneous employment discrimination case challenging the District’s standards for teachers’ personal appearance.

329 F. Supp. 706

462 F.2d 1112

1974 WL 333

519 F.2d 1087

Summary Authors

Timothy Leake (4/19/2019)

Related Cases

US v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District, Northern District of Mississippi (1970)

People


Judge(s)

Dyer, David William (Georgia)

Smith, Orma Rinehart (Mississippi)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Freeland, Thomas H. III (Mississippi)

Pollak, Stephen J. (District of Columbia)

Rubin, David (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Sims, Shields (Mississippi)

Judge(s)

Dyer, David William (Georgia)

Smith, Orma Rinehart (Mississippi)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Freeland, Thomas H. III (Mississippi)

Pollak, Stephen J. (District of Columbia)

Rubin, David (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Sims, Shields (Mississippi)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Civil Docket

Dec. 18, 1981 Docket

Docket

July 29, 2010 Docket

Opinion

329 F.Supp. 706

June 23, 1971 Order/Opinion

Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

462 F.2d 1112

June 30, 1972 Order/Opinion

Opinion

1974 WL 333

Nov. 4, 1974 Order/Opinion

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link
1

NOTICE OF ENTRY of docket sheet, school desegregation case EC 70−52 (mhg, USDC)

July 29, 2010

State / Territory: Mississippi

Case Type(s):

Equal Employment

Key Dates

Filing Date: June 29, 1970

Closing Date: Nov. 13, 1981

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Eight black teachers denied employment by Mississippi school district.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Columbus Municipal Separate School District (Lowndes), School District

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

42 U.S.C. § 1981

Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Monetary Relief

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Declaratory Judgment

Attorneys fees

Damages

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Private Settlement Agreement

Amount Defendant Pays: 75000

Order Duration: 1971 - None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief granted

Hire

Position Restored

Reinstatement

Discrimination Prohibition

Follow recruitment, hiring, or promotion protocols

Comply with advertising/recruiting requirements

Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention

Reporting

Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)

Issues

General:

Disparate Impact

Disparate Treatment

Pattern or Practice

Discrimination-area:

Discharge / Constructive Discharge / Layoff

Hiring

Other Conditions of Employment (including assignment, transfer, hours, working conditions, etc)

Testing

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black