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WDVA: Diversity-based school staffing claims survive dismissal

A white high school principal can proceed with discrimination claims against the school board, which allegedly demoted her after the superintendent implied that school staff should “look like” the student body.


Plaintiff Angela Weinerth is a white female over the age of 60, with over 40 years of experience in education. She has worked for Martinsville City Public Schools since 2005.

In 2012, Weinerth was appointed to the position of assistant principal at Martinsville High School, where Aji Dixon – a black male under the age of 40 – had served as principal since 2011. Weinerth alleges that Dixon’s performance was unsatisfactory, that he dismissed her warnings about accreditation, and that he behaved in a physically threatening manner. In 2013, the School Board removed Dixon and assigned him to an administrative position in the school system’s central office.

Weinerth was promoted to replace Dixon. She alleges she took immediate actions to improve student performance and, as a result, the high school made steady progress toward achieving accreditation.

In 2016, the School Board appointed Defendant Zebedee Talley as interim superintendent. Weinerth alleges that Talley immediately instituted a personnel policy that “put race, sex and age – immutable characteristics – above competence and ability” and that this policy was endorsed and approved by the School Board.

When Talley was appointed, more than 50 percent of the school system’s students were minorities. At Martinsville High School, it was more than 70 percent. Talley and the School Board allegedly voiced concern that, in light of these statistics, more than 70 percent of the school’s employees were white. They also expressed the belief that a more diverse staff was necessary for student success. For example, Talley stated that “minority students do better and do well when they have people in authority who look like them.”

On July 22, 2016, Talley called Weinerth and asked how many black teachers were employed at the high school. Weinerth said she didn’t know “off the top of her head.” She also said that she selected teachers based on ability and that the school’s employment application didn’t ask about race or sex. Four days later, Talley removed Weinerth from her position, “demoting” her to assistance principal, because he said “the community had spoken.” Weinerth alleges that Talley never reviewed her performance or suggested she wasn’t meeting the School Board’s legitimate expectations. Talley returned Dixon to the position of principal. Weinerth alleges that this decision was motivated by race, sex, and age.

Weinerth sued, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and age. The School Board has moved to dismiss.


Weinerth does not rely on the mere existence of a diversity policy to support her discrimination claims. Instead, she alleges that the School Board approved Talley’s policy of promoting employees based on immutable characteristics such as race, sex, and age, and that such policy actually played a role in the decision to remove her from the position of principal. She further alleges that she was replaced by a younger black male, even though he was not qualified for the position and had failed to perform satisfactorily in the past. Thus, while a school’s goal of increasing diversity within a school system’s teaching and administrative staff may be legitimate and lawful, the School Board’s argument to that effect does not warrant dismissal here.

Unlike the plaintiff in McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Dep’t of Transp., 780 F.3d 582 (4th Cir. 2015), Weinerth has sufficiently alleged facts to support a reasonable inference that the employment decision at issue was motivated by her race, sex, and age. In particular, Weinerth alleges that Talley and the School Board expressed the belief that a staff that looked more like the student body, was necessary for student success and that they implemented a personnel policy that put race, sex, and age above competence and work ethic. Weinerth also alleges that, in reliance on such policy, Talley and the School Board removed her from her position of principal, where the majority of students were young, black males, even though she was performing her duties at a level equal to or exceeding their legitimate expectations. Weinerth further alleges that she was replaced by Dixon, a younger black male, even though he had previously failed to perform the duties required of the position in a competent manner.

This court is convinced that the amended complaint contains sufficient factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss. While some of the statements attributed to the School Board suggest that race may have played a more significant role in the employment decision, Weinerth has adequately pled claims for discrimination based on sex and age as well.

The School Board contends that Weinerth’s “own allegations show she was insubordinate to Dr. Talley or failed to respond appropriately to a simple question,” and that “Dixon had more relevant experience to serve as principal of the high school.” But these arguments require the court to view the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the School Board – inappropriate at this stage. When viewed in the light most favorable to Weinerth, her amended complaint contains enough facts to reasonably infer that she performed satisfactorily, was more qualified and better suited for the position than Dixon was, and that she was nonetheless replaced because of her race, sex, and age.

Defendants’ motion to dismiss denied.

Weinerth v. Talley, Case No. 4:17cv67, June 6, 2018. WDVA at Danville (Urbanski). VLW No. 018-3-233, 12 pp.

VLW 018-3-233