The Catoosa County school system has settled a race discrimination lawsuit, filed in July 2019 by an assistant principal, for $90,000.

Hiram Celis, an assistant principal at Battlefield Primary School at the time, claimed race discrimination and retaliation. He alleged in his suit that he was passed over for principals’ positions because he was Mexican.

He said, at the time, he was the only non-Caucasian assistant principal in the school system and there were no non-Caucasian principals. He said less qualified candidates got the jobs.

The settlement was filed June 4 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Rome, Ga.

In May 2018, Celis sought a principal’s job at Westside Elementary.

The person, a Caucasian, who got the job had less experience as an assistant principal, Celis said.

In December 2018, he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In May 2019, he sought a principal’s job at Heritage Middle School. Again, Celis claimed, the person, a Caucasian, who got the job had less experience.

In response to the settlement, Schools Superintendent Denia Reese issued a statement Monday, June 15, saying that while the school system still maintains it did not discriminate against Celis, it chose to settle out of court because legal costs were mounting.

“Mr. Celis filed the first EEOC complaint when he was not chosen for a principal position in 2018,” Reese said. “The EEOC found no grounds for discrimination in this claim. Mr. Celis continued to apply for open principal positions, and filed an EEOC complaint each time he was not chosen for the job. The school system did not discriminate against Mr. Celis due to his Mexican descent; however, it became clear that he was going to continue to apply for principal positions and file EEOC complaints and employment related lawsuits when he was not chosen for the positions. Responding to these lawsuits was expensive and time-consuming, so the district determined settling with Mr. Celis was in the best interest of the school system.”

Celis, who holds two master’s degrees and has been an educator since 1991, had worked in the school system since 2007.

Celis, in a statement Monday, June 15, said that while he “agreed to resign from his position with CCPS as settlement of his federal lawsuit, along with $90,000.00 and no confidentiality agreement, he remains empowered to use his experience to help others seek justice.”

Don Stilwell is editor for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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