Fired teacher claims student restraint was in self-defense, sues Orange district for discrimination

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Nov. 8, 2010, 6:35am

A West Orange-Stark Middle School science teacher has filed a lawsuit alleging she is a victim of racial discrimination due to unequal treatment in work assignments.

Claiming violations of her civil rights, Wilhelmenia Wills filed a lawsuit against West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District and Travis McKelvain on Oct. 28 in the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division.

Wills was a long-term African American public school teacher assigned to teach sixth and seventh grade science at West Orange-Stark Middle School. She states she was a victim of retaliation after she told assistant principal Travis McKelvain, who countermanded a disciplinary decision, that she had "lost respect for him."

The following school year the assistant principle was appointed principal of the middle school. Wills states the principal used an altercation with a troubled student as a basis for her termination.

The altercation happened on Oct. 7, 2009, when Wills told a student that she needed to remove her backpack from the class. The student argued and eventually stormed out to the classroom to see the assistant principal. The student returned and stood in the doorway of the Wills' classroom and disrupted the class.

According to the lawsuit, Wills eventually went to the doorway to attempt to close the door. The student reacted violently and swung her fist at Wills, attempting to hit her in the head or face. Wills states she acted in self-defense and attempted to restrain the student until the assistant principal arrived.

Wills was immediately placed on administrative leave and was eventually terminated due to the incident.

The plaintiff argues that the entire incident was caught on a security camera which was viewed by the superintendent's secretary. Wills states the recording has been altered and is missing approximately two minutes, including missing the moments right before the struggle began.

The defendant is accused of intentionally discriminating against Wills due to her race in violation of Title VII by unequal treatment in work assignments, tampering with evidence in order to cause Wills' termination, conducting and/or promoting an unfair and biased hearing and retaliating against Wills.

Wills is seeking damages for mental anguish, emotional and physical injury, attorney's fees and court costs.

The plaintiff is represented by Larry Watts of Watts & Associates in Missouri City, Texas.

Jury trial is requested.

U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield is assigned to the case.

Case No. 1:10-cv00688

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