North Carolina

Black school worker’s lawsuit says NC bosses called her hair unprofessional, banned son

gavel in courtroom
gavel in courtroom Getty Images/iStockphoto

A petition with signatures from white colleagues who thought her natural hair was “unprofessional” and “inappropriate for the workplace” humiliated Kimberly Tigner, she says.

Now the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employee, who is black, is suing for discrimination.

“The harassment Ms. Tigner faced was brutal and relentless, including incidents ranging from mildly insulting to dehumanizing,” according to a brief filed Wednesday.

Tigner works as a career development liaison for the Career and Technical Education Department of CMS. Her lawsuit made its way onto a docket in the Western District of North Carolina late last year.

But CMS has asked the court to dismiss it, claiming in part that Tigner couldn’t point to any “official policy, practice or custom of institutional racial discrimination.” Tigner filed her opposition to that dismissal bid Wednesday.

A CMS spokesperson told McClatchy newsgroup Wednesday that the district is unable to comment on pending litigation.

Tigner said she was subject to “racially-motivated criticism and bullying” by a supervisor who allegedly circulated the petition and claimed to have “black friends, so it was okay for her to say what she did,” according to her complaint, which was amended in May.

The behavior also extended to her son, who was 17 at the time, the lawsuit says. She said her supervisor complained of feeling threatened by his presence when he dropped by the office in 2016 “because he was a black male.” The supervisor then allegedly used the district’s internal directory to see whether he had a criminal record.

The department head became involved and, according to the suit, banned Tigner’s son from CMS property. She said her teenage son was kept from school for two weeks while she proved he was not a felon.

Tigner said she was reprimanded for complaining about the alleged bullying and harassment, so she tried to find a job somewhere else, according to the lawsuit. But, she said, she was passed over for all five positions.

Tigner said she developed severe anxiety as a result and has accused the school district of discriminating and retaliating against her in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the lawsuit says.

“(CMS) intentionally deprived Ms. Tigner, an African American woman, of the same Constitutional rights enjoyed by white citizens as to the creation, performance, enjoyment, and all benefits and privileges of her contractual relationship with (CMS),” the lawsuit states.

But CMS pushed back against Tigner’s lawsuit, arguing that “no objectively reasonable person would view the isolated incidents in the Corrected Amended Complaint to be either severe or pervasive enough to form the basis of a hostile work environment claim.

“Courts have rejected claims of racial harassment based on conduct far more egregious than what Plaintiff has alleged in this case,” the school district said.

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Hayley is a Real Time reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking news and trending stories in the Carolinas. She also created the Observer’s unofficial bird beat (est. 2015) with a summer full of ornithological-related content, including a story about Barred Owls in love.