Douglas County School District is pushing back against discrimination claims made by a former assistant principal who sued the district over his termination after he objected to a theater performance of ‘The Laramie Project.’
Corey McNellis, previously the assistant principal and athletic director for Ponderosa High School, sued DCSD in July, alleging he was fired for expressing Christian beliefs. A response from DCSD filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 30 argues the district did not discriminate against McNellis because he made the statements as a district employee.
McNellis was fired in October 2020 after an investigation into emails he sent regarding the high school production of “The Laramie Project,” a play about the aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1988.
In emails to school staff, McNellis asked if he had any recourse should he disagree with the production and later, offered to give a Christian perspective on the play.
“Forgive me for having a different viewpoint and the audacity to publicly share it,” McNellis wrote in an email.
According to McNellis’ lawsuit, shortly after the email exchange, he was placed on leave and, ultimately, fired. The suit alleges that Danny Winsor, the district’s executive director of schools for the Parker region, told McNellis he was placed on leave for his “religious comments” and the email exchange was the basis for his termination.
However, the district argues McNellis did not make his comments as a protected citizen, but rather as a district employee since he used his school email address to respond and refers to himself as both a parent and staff member in the emails.
“McNellis was using his school district email address through the school district email system to simultaneously email a captive audience of the entire Ponderosa staff about a school district program conducted at a school in which he was an administrator, signing the emails as the Ponderosa Athletic Director/Assistant Principal,” the lawsuit says.
Additionally, the district claims McNellis doesn’t provide evidence that his termination was based on his religion and that he received due process because he was notified of the allegations and given a chance to respond.
In response to McNellis’ claim that other staff were not disciplined for similar behavior, the district says there’s no evidence to support that.
Ultimately, the district argues McNellis didn’t prove he engaged in protected speech, so there was no discrimination at play in his termination. The filing asks the judge to dismiss the case.
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