COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Olentangy Local School District reached a settlement last month with a former employee who claims she was unlawfully forced to resign over remarks deemed racist by the district.
After a two-year court challenge, former Olentangy Liberty High School aide Antoinette Evans agreed not to seek re-employment with the district in exchange for the Olentangy Board of Education’s separation of any disciplinary records from her personnel file – including those detailing Evans’ comments linking COVID-19 to China and the country’s sale of personal protective equipment, according to a copy of the settlement agreement. The district awarded her $100,000 as part of the settlement.
Evans, a 25-year veteran of the district, resigned from her role as study hall monitor in April 2021 after commenting to a student, “Can you believe that the coronavirus came from China and that China is making money from the sales of PPE to the United States?”
School administrators informed Evans that her speech, overheard by an Asian student, was racist and bigoted, later telling her she’d be dismissed from the job, according to a copy of her complaint. In lieu of termination, Evans resigned.
She filed a lawsuit against the district in 2021, claiming it violated her constitutional rights – including her First Amendment right to free speech – when she was forced to resign by school officials “who fabricated from Evans’ innocent words bizarre accusations of bigotry, micro-aggressions against students, and unprofessional conduct,” her complaint reads.
Nearly two years of litigation, however, culminated in a settlement agreement that falls short of attributing blame to either Evans or the district, her attorney Curt Hartman said.
“There’s a certain relief that the litigation is over with, and people can move forward,” Hartman said. “To what extent has there been vindication or not? The other side always avows, ‘Oh, we did nothing wrong.’ That doesn’t lend itself to good feelings moving forward.”
District spokesperson Amanda Beeman declined to comment on the settlement agreement, citing ongoing litigation in a separate Delaware County case where Evans is challenging the state’s denial of her application for unemployment benefits.
In an attempt to build her case against the district – which she claimed promotes “leftist/Marxist/Communist ideologies” while condemning “Judeo-Christian values” like hers – Evans filed a public records request before the Ohio Supreme Court.
She asked the district to publicize documents pertaining to its 2019 cross-cultural partnership with the Wuhan Education Bureau, an institution Evans described as “beholden to the agenda of the Chinese Community Party.” In light of the settlement agreement, however, Evans and her attorneys dismissed the complaint.
The April 2021 comment regarding China and the coronavirus isn’t the first time Evans was disciplined during her tenure at the district, according to records with the state’s Unemployment Compensation Review Commission.
Two years earlier, the district placed Evans on a four-day unpaid suspension after she posted a Facebook photo of four U.S. Congress members – all of whom are women of color – with the caption, “We are being overtaken from within.”
She was reprimanded again in December 2020 for telling a Black student that “Italians were lynched more than Black people and had it worse.”
Despite receiving training and counseling, Evans’ continued to voice her opinions without regard to her position at the school, the district argued. Evans “did not exhibit professionalism, sound judgment, or promote good public relations, and her conduct clearly displayed that she could not be trained to act in the employer’s best interest.”
Olentangy Local School District faces a separate lawsuit from the national conservative organization Parents Defending Education, which argued in mid-May that the district’s anti-harassment policies protecting LGBTQ+ students — including those that prohibit students from purposefully misgendering their peers — violate the First Amendment.