A federal lawsuit filed April 14 claims admissions to Lafayette Parish School System magnet programs are rife with illegal discrimination, which the programs were created to alleviate.
The former employee who filed the suit in the Western District of Louisiana, Azadeh Mariam Yazdi, further claims she was harassed and fired for exposing possible violations the court’s desegregation orders dating back five decades.
The lawsuit individually names Superintendent Donald Aguillard and Chief Academic Officer Annette Samec, as well as three other employees: Yazdi’s former supervisor, Robin Olivier; Barbara Pippin, who is a recruitment and enrollment specialist; and Tia LeBrun, a foreign language director. The School Board is also named as a defendant.
Yazdi claims the lottery for admissions to “Schools of Choice” programs is a sham, with Samec, Olivier and Pippin allegedly making admissions decisions based on “race, color, friendship, relationship by blood or marriage, and even whether the persons were children” of employees.
Aguillard, Samec and Pippin declined comment. Olivier and LeBrun did not return calls. The lawyer who filed the suit on Yazdi’s behalf, Lane Roy, was unavailable Monday.
Roy is also representing former Superintendent Pat Cooper in his legal battles with the School Board. The board’s president, Erick Knezek, trained his fire on Roy in an email Monday criticizing the Yazdi lawsuit.
“It is unfortunate that this employment matter has escalated to a good person’s decision to sue the school system, unfortunately under misguided counsel,” Knezek wrote. “This suit only follows after several letters demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars for what an internal investigation determined was a lawful termination.”
In the Cooper case, however, an appellate court in 2014 found that termination to be arbitrary and capricious, and he is seeking damages in the millions. The board is offering Cooper far less, and it appears likely a state judge will have to set the amount.
Yazdi claims she was subjected to retaliation, harassment and ultimately termination after she confronted Pippin, Olivier and Samec with her concerns, including one incident where Samec allegedly told Yazdi she “could not stop staring at your legs,” and to “be mindful that your legs can be a distraction.” Yazdi also claims Samec inappropriately tampered with her personnel file.
Yazdi alleges she reported the abusive treatment to Aguillard, and was surprised when he allegedly reprimanded her and ultimately terminated her contract. The lawsuit does not make clear when the contract termination occurred.
The popular Schools of Choice programs are specialized instruction and training in schools across the parish. All students are eligible to enroll. The school system cannot accommodate all every student who applies, so admission is based on a lottery that is supposed to ensure no unfair advantages.
The magnet programs were created in part to show the school system offers the same opportunities to students of all races following federal Judge Richard Haik’s 2000 ruling that the school system had failed to desegregate. In 2006, Haik dismissed the 1965 civil rights lawsuit that yielded his first order, finding the school system had made satisfactory progress over the previous six years.
While dismissing the lawsuit, Haik’s order also required the school system to annually publish a report on its website consisting of the racial makeup of all the system’s schools and magnet programs, as well as future plans for those programs and additional projects to ensure the school system does not re-segregate. The reports were to continue through completion of 5-year and 10-year desegregation plans, as well as a four-year facilities plan.
The school system’s risk management director, Mona Bernard, said in an email the school system has no annual reports like the ones Haik ordered, but the three long-term plans had been published — albeit not on the school system’s website.
Bernard provided a copy of the 5-year plan, which was to cover the years from 2004 to 2009. The others could not be immediately located, she said.
The school system publishes annual court-ordered “Hinds County reports,” which contain school-by-school racial enrollment figures and are available on the school system’s website.
Yazdi alleges that Aguillard and Samec manipulated the reporting for Moss Preparatory Academy by waiting “until after the Hinds County Report was prepared and sent to the court before making wholesale transfer of students from schools in order to subvert the racial and socioeconomic makeup at the schools and hide discrimination.”
The lawsuit does not say what year this occurred, or if it was regular practice.
Yazdi starting working in the fall of 2016 as a marketing and recruiting coordinator, a position of “substantial responsibility” related to the magnet programs, according to the lawsuit, which does not explain how Yazdi discovered the alleged discrimination.
Yazdi also claims that Olivier and Samec, along with LeBrun, coerced students applying to magnet programs not to be screened for English as a second language classes, or ESL, when they should have been.
Knezek, the board president, said in his email that all of Yazdi’s allegations are unfounded, closing by directing his own legal threat at Roy, who he said had represented the school system while the Schools of Choice programs were in place.
“Certainly there are potential attorney client privilege issue(s) at stake considering the very programs mentioned in this pleading were in place during this attorney’s representation of the school system,” Knezek said in the email. “We will have to ask the appropriate authorities to determine if this is a potential ethical issue for that attorney.”