Equity & Diversity Opinion

The Future of Non-Discriminatory, Moral, and Ethical Leadership

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 12, 2017 4 min read
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Our guest blogger today is author and consultant Joyce Hutchens.

As school leaders, it is your professional and ethical responsibility to be fair to all employees who serve under your leadership. A lapse in moral and ethical leadership and decision-making, and engaging in discriminatory or other egregious behavior simply because you dislike one of your teachers, or prefer one over the other for a discriminatory reason, is wrong--PERIOD! It can get you and your school district sued and it end your professional career.

In an unvarnished memoir and legal case study which has garnered the attention of legal scholars, practitioners, and school boards nationwide, I discuss these and other issues as I chronicle my eight-year legal fight for justice against my former employer, the Chicago Board of Education. How A Pro Se Won Justice describes how I fought the “establishment” after my former principal sullied my good name, character and professional reputation, and a district administrator and the Chicago Board of Education discriminated against me, seized my livelihood and retaliated against me because I engaged in a protected activity. This is the only case study written solely by a public school teacher with no legal training, and currently is being used in the classrooms and libraries of nearly 100 law schools and universities in every region of the country.

As you serve in your school districts as building leaders and other administrators, please be mindful of the following:

  • Teachers and other school staff enjoy certain rights related to employment, discrimination in any form. These guaranteed rights are derived from state and federal constitutional provisions, statutes, and regulations.
  • Discriminatory behavior and practices can be a liability to your school districts and you.
  • The salaries of school district employees are paid by taxpayers; therefore, moral and ethical leadership and public accountability cannot be emphasized enough.

A person who states a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is alleging the defendant deprived them of a constitutional right while acting “under color” of state law. If a staff member initiates litigation against your school district and you for discrimination, you may be held personally liable for damages under Section 1983 based upon actions taken in your official capacity.

According to Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. This provision was formerly enacted as part of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and was originally designed to combat post-Civil War racial violence in the Southern states. Reenacted as part of the Civil Rights Act, Section 1983 is as of the early 2000s the primary means of enforcing all constitutional rights.

Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

Excerpts taken from “How A Pro Se Won Justice.”

Based on her other egregious behavior toward me, I concluded Glass had deliberately placed the notes of another teacher’s poor performance into a file containing my name in the Board’s Labor Relations Department when she was gathering information to discipline me. To make it appear I was the poorly performing teacher, she copied the notes in a way the actual teacher’s name was not displayed (p. 93).


People have described what happened to me as a “persecution” and a “tragedy.” I call it a public lynching, employment apartheid, and the 21st Century Jim Crow. The United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, from which my Title VII victory was born became law because of the organized, sustained, relentless efforts of those involved in the civil rights movement. But I see little difference between what happened to black people during the Jim Crow era and what happened to me during my litigation against the Chicago Board of Education nearly five decades after the Civil Rights Act became law. Those who besmirched my good name and character, seized my livelihood, and conspired and maneuvered so conspicuously against me, obviously believe Jim Crow laws still exist, and they could, therefore, engage in employment apartheid at their very whim (p. 305).

Although by unanimous decision I ultimately won my lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, (pro se), the actions of those I identify in the case study destroyed my career as a veteran and highly accomplished National Board Certified English teacher. I hope for others to learn from my experience and that understanding law and recognizing personal bias can help to change experiences for others, teachers, and their students, now and in the future.

Joyce Hutchens is president of JDH Training and Communications Group and author of How A Pro Se Won Justice.”

Photo by MarkThomas courtesy of Pixabay

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.