MONROEVILLE, Pa. (KDKA) — Gateway School District has been named in a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.
School board member Paul Caliari and the Gateway School District are both named as defendants in the lawsuit. Attorney Todd Hollis, who filed the official complaint on behalf of Korie Morton-Rozier on Jan. 1, told KDKA that, “This case isn’t simply about money. It’s about change.”READ MORE: 1 Taken To Hospital After Uptown Pittsburgh Shooting
According to the lawsuit, Morton-Rozier is suing Gateway and Caliari for racial discrimination over claims she was passed up for the athletic director position because her husband is Black.
“She was experienced. She had a former employment spot that allowed her to be uniquely qualified for this position,” said Hollis.
The suit claimed the position was filled by a white man. Hollis believes a group text message chain between school board members tells the story.
“A school board member released an SMS message that basically involved Mrs. Rozier’s husband,” said Hollis.
According to the lawsuit, in a message from February 2020, Caliari was referencing Morton-Rozier and her husband when he wrote, “Didn’t she start dating the darkies?”
The plaintiff stated that text message from Caliari is why she believes not being hired was a racially-charged decision.
“There were nine school board members who were aware of this situation over the course of 10 months. And only one school board member believed it was adequate to bring it to the public’s attention,” said Hollis.READ MORE: Pennsylvania Officials Recapture Nearly $800 Million In Unemployment Benefits From Fraudsters
Caliari responded to our request for comment, saying he mistakenly sent that message to the wrong chat and was referring to somebody else with the last name “Darkey.”
And although he said he did not vote for her for the AD position, the defendant told KDKA in a statement:
“If I could tell Korie anything, the first thing I would do is apologize for the confusion and hurt this has caused. I would also tell her that I was a big advocate of her to get the AD position. I believe she is qualified, and would have been a good fit.”
Hollis said, “Individuals in these governing positions have a responsibility to our children and they must effectuate that duty to the best of their ability.”
The lawsuit claims Morton-Rozier has suffered economic and emotional injuries because of this. She is seeking damages from both the Gateway School District and Caliari.
In a statement to KDKA, Gateway School Board member Mary Beth Cirucci said of the situation, in part, “Mr Caliari’s comments had nothing to do with Mrs. Morton-Rozier not getting the job. Gateway hired the best candidate for the job, period. It takes five or more people to hire someone. Additionally, Coach Holl was recommended by administration after their thorough interview process. I had three candidates sit before me for the interview process; and, in my opinion, miss Morton performed the worst out of all three candidates.
“Everybody knows without a shadow of a doubt that we hired the best candidate for the job. Mr. Caliari’s comments are an entirely separate issue.
“From my recollection, his text was completely out of context. He wasn’t addressing it to the board; he was obviously having a conversation with somebody else. Again, it has nothing to do with why we chose Don Holl.
“I was the board president at the time Mr. Caliari made the comment. At the time, I had not known him long. When asked if I believed his excuse, I said that it was not my place to judge the heart of a man. I accepted his explanation and suggested that if we had any other issues moving forward, that they should be addressed. I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt at the time. Since then, I have not had any other issues or heard anything inappropriate racially from Mr. Caliari in almost a year.”
The district wouldn’t comment directly on the lawsuit. The district instead sent KDKA a copy of its non-discrimination policy. Click here to read it.