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Case Name Baker v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District EE-MS-0001
Docket / Court 70-cv-00052 ( N.D. Miss. )
State/Territory Mississippi
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Case Summary
Before the 1970-1971 school year, the Columbus Municipal Separate School District operated separate schools for black and white students. Faculty placement also depended on race. For example, during the 1969-1970 school year, only five of the 133 black teachers taught in white schools, and only ... read more >
Before the 1970-1971 school year, the Columbus Municipal Separate School District operated separate schools for black and white students. Faculty placement also depended on race. For example, during the 1969-1970 school year, only five of the 133 black teachers taught in white schools, and only eleven of the 243 white teachers taught in black schools. In August 1970, the District entered into a consent decree with the United States that required it to desegregate. See United States v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District, 558 F.2d 228 (5th Cir. 1977) (cert. denied).

But the District had already adopted hiring practices to disadvantage first-year black teachers and future black applicants. On January 12, 1970, the District’s Board of Trustees agreed not to renew the employment of teachers in their first year during 1969-1970 who could obtain a score of at least 1000 on the National Teachers Examination (NTE). The Board also decided not to hire any new teachers who did not score at least 1000 on the NTE.

On June 29, 1970, eight black teachers, the National Education Association, and the Mississippi Teachers Association filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. They sued the school district under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought an injunction against the District’s discriminatory hiring policies, declaratory judgment, damages, and attorney’s fees. Specifically, they claimed that the District’s use of NTE scores in hiring decisions violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

Judge Orma R. Smith entered a preliminary injunction on September 8, 1970, directing the District to re-employ the individual plaintiffs during the 1970-1971 school year. He issued a full opinion invalidating the District’s use of an NTE cutoff score on June 23, 1971.

In his opinion, Judge Smith found that the District “acted with a racially discriminatory purpose” in adopting the NTE cutoff score. The District had run a merit pay system for several years based partly on NTE scores. From this experience, the District knew that adopting a minimum NTE score would “eliminate proportionally a much higher percentage of black than white” applicants. The District also refused employment to two black teachers whose scores did not qualify, even though they were exempt from the policy, because they had been hired before the 1969-1970 school year. It allowed a white teacher who did not meet the cutoff to continue teaching. And it refused to hire black candidates who met the score requirement despite having numerous vacancies at the start of the 1970-1971 school year.

Next, Judge Smith found that the NTE cutoff “creates a racial classification” because only 11% of black graduates of Mississippi colleges met the cutoff score, as compared to 90% of whites. He then balanced the District’s interest in using the NTE to improve teaching quality with the test’s discriminatory effects. Judge Smith determined that the test was largely unrelated to the criteria the District itself used to evaluate teachers, including classroom management skills, enthusiasm, professionalism, and work ethic. Even the District’s expert witness “generally agreed” that the there was no demonstrated link between NTE scores and teaching performance. Therefore, Judge Smith concluded that the NTE cutoff score was “an arbitrary and unreasonable qualification” that violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. 329 F. Supp. 706.

In an order issued on the same day, Judge Smith ordered that the individual plaintiffs be reinstated, awarded damages and costs, and enjoined the District from using standardized tests in teacher retention decisions. He also directed the District to hire additional black teachers to maintain the racial balance in the District’s teaching force that existed prior to 1970-1971.

The District appealed. On June 30, 1972, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding. Judge David W. Dyer noted that a school district’s desire to improve its faculty “may be such an overriding purpose” to justify racially disparate effects. But he found that the District adopted its cutoff score “without any investigation or study.” And he rejected the District’s argument that hiring more black teachers would dilute the quality of its faculty because the district court’s order merely required the District to “turn back the faculty clock” and return to its pre-NTE policies. 462 F.2d 1112.

In late 1972 and early 1973, six of the individual plaintiffs entered into private settlements of their damage claims with the District. One individual plaintiff asked the court to calculate her damages, and it awarded her $5,544.90 on February 5, 1974. The court also continued to monitor the racial balance of the District’s faculty.

The individual plaintiff who declined to settle had briefly moved to Kentucky before returning to teach in the District during the 1971-1972 school year. She was not welcomed back with open arms. Instead, her principal assigned her to teach the most disruptive students in the school. He also directed her colleagues to submit written reports of any deviations from policy she might make, including misspelling words on the board, and berated her in front of students. Based on the principal’s recommendation, the District fired the teacher in November 1971. In an oral opinion issued on November 4, 1974, Judge Smith found that plaintiff was “singled out” based on her race and past participation in this lawsuit. He acknowledged that the teacher had been provided a hearing but held that the discharge was “punitive and retaliatory,” entitling her to reinstatement, back pay, and attorney’s fees. 1974 WL 333. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in a decision without opinion. 519 F.2d 1087.

On February 10, 1975, Judge Smith awarded $13,192 in back pay to the teacher as well as $9,946.81 in costs and $50,000 in attorney’s fees to the various plaintiffs. The court also awarded $161.70 in additional costs associated with the second appeal on March 23, 1977.

The case is now closed.

Conard v. Goolsby is a contemporaneous employment discrimination case challenging the District’s standards for teachers’ personal appearance.

329 F. Supp. 706
462 F.2d 1112
1974 WL 333
519 F.2d 1087

Timothy Leake - 04/19/2019

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Comply with advertising/recruiting requirements
Discrimination Prohibition
Follow recruitment, hiring, or promotion protocols
Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Position Restored
Preliminary relief granted
Elementary/Secondary School
Discharge / Constructive Discharge / Layoff
Other Conditions of Employment (including assignment, transfer, hours, working conditions, etc)
Race discrimination
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1981
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) Columbus Municipal Separate School District
Plaintiff Description Eight black teachers denied employment by Mississippi school district.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Declaratory Judgment
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 1971 - n/a
Filed 06/29/1970
Case Closing Year 1981
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing SD-MS-0012 : US v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District (N.D. Miss.)
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
N.D. Miss.
EE-MS-0001-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
EE-MS-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Miss.
Opinion (329 F.Supp. 706)
EE-MS-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (462 F.2d 1112)
EE-MS-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Miss.
Opinion (1974 WL 333)
EE-MS-0001-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
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Judges Dyer, David William (S.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
Smith, Orma Rinehart (N.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
EE-MS-0001-0002 | EE-MS-0001-0003
Plaintiff's Lawyers Freeland, Thomas H. III (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Pollak, Stephen J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Rubin, David (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Sims, Shields (Mississippi) show/hide docs

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