Lakeside Trial Is Off


The racial discrimination suit against Lakeside School was set to go to trial next Monday in federal court, promising juicy revelations about the inside workings of the elite school from some of the most well-heeled people in town. But the trial is off. Lakeside recently reached a confidential settlement with Chance Sims, one of two African American teachers who sued the school, according to both the school and Sims’ attorney, Steve Fury. U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez had already dismissed the claims of the other plaintiff, Novella Coleman. And so the judge dismissed the case as a whole on September 22nd.

Undoubtedly, Lakeside, which zealously guards the privacy of the families it serves as well as alumni like Bill Gates, was loathe to see the case go to trial. The leafy, north side middle and high school, which has ironically embarked on a major diversity campaign, had tried to keep that from happening with a motion for summary judgment. But although Martinez granted just such a request in the case of Coleman, noting that the school had tried to address her concerns about racism, the judge said that a jury deserved to hear Sims’ claims. In his 19-page ruling last July, Martinez asserted that Sims had made a credible argument that “Lakeside may have acted with a retaliatory motive” when it placed the teacher on two-months probation after he sent out a school-wide e-mail lamenting the loss of another African American teacher and criticizing Lakeside’s efforts to retain minority faculty.

The school’s behavior may not be the kind of overt racial discrimination that the school’s worst detractors would like to pin on it, but it apparently qualifies as a valid issue under the law, and it certainly shows Lakeside’s limited tolerance for dissent. “Sending out an e-mail to 190 people essentially questioning the integrity of Upper School Director Than Healy is unacceptable,” Head of School Bernie Noe wrote in a letter to Sims. Noe added that such behavior “undermines the sense of community we are trying to build at the school.”

Although Sims continued to teach for a time at the school after filing his lawsuit, he no longer does, according to Lakeside director of development Daiga Galins. Citing the confidentiality of the settlement, Sims’ attorney declines to say how much money, if any, the teacher received.

Those wanting the inside scoop on the school needn’t fear. Even without a trial, there’s plenty of revealing reading -- including e-mails, evaluations, and minutes of sensitive meetings -- available for all to see in the thousands of pages that constitutes the Lakeside court file.

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