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Black Woman Hired To Investigate Race Discrimination Subjected to Discrimination

The Davis School District (DSD), located outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, hired Joscelin Thomas to investigate racial harassment complaints made by students. DSD created Thomas's position because of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2021. The suicide of a Black fifth grader after alleged "relentless" bullying triggered a DOJ investigation. Following its review, the DOJ found DSD intentionally ignored “serious and widespread” racial harassment for years. Black students had complained about being called the N-word and other racial slurs, and the school district disciplined Black students more harshly than white students.

Thomas alleges DSD treated her differently than her "lighter-skinned and non-Black co-workers" from the beginning of her employment and subjected her to a hostile work environment. She worked in the District’s newly created Office of Equal Opportunity, investigating and responding to complaints of racial harassment and discrimination. Thomas also supervised a team of school coordinators. However, Thomas claims DSD denied her training and mentorship opportunities offered to her colleagues, that people treated her “as if she were stupid,” and said she did not have the same work ethic as her peers. Thomas also states her supervisors assigned her more cases to review than her peers. Her peers treated her as a subordinate, asking her to clean up the trash and blaming her for things that were not her fault, even after attending a mediation with one of them. A third-party consultant hired by the District, as required by the DOJ settlement, allegedly pushed back against the DOJ findings. Thomas claims the consultant changed her conclusion of racial bias in one of Thomas's investigations, which found a teacher referred to a Black student as a monkey. The head of her department sent Thomas a "Letter of Concern," claiming her investigations lacked thoroughness and she used unprofessional language. Thomas alleges other employees used the same language but did not receive similar expressions of concern. DSD did not renew Thomas’s one-year contract.

The district stated it “stands firmly against any form of harassment or discrimination that affects a child’s learning experience in our schools.”