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Catoosa County Schools has reached a settlement with a former assistant principal after he sued the district for discrimination.

The school district agreed to pay Hiram Celis, the former assistant principal at Battlefield Primary School, $90,000.

The payout comes less than a year after Celis sued Catoosa County Public Schools and alleged he was not given a second interview for two different jobs because of his Mexican heritage.

In a statement after the settlement, Celis said Catoosa County Schools lacks diversity at its leadership levels and said it is "abhorrent and statistically improbable" that only Caucasian employees have been hired and "fast-tracked" to their current administrative positions.

Celis was the only non-Caucasian assistant principal with the school district during his tenure, which started in 2007.

As part of the the $90,000 settlement, Celis agreed to resign from his position this summer.

Celis claimed in the lawsuit that Doug Cline, the head of human resources for the school district, told him he would never get a principal job as long as Cline was in charge of HR.

The school district responded to Celis' claims when the suit was filed and denied them. At the time, the district also said that it does not know anything about the allegation against Cline but said that wouldn't have mattered either way because all principal hires go through Superintendent Denia Reese.

In May 2018, Celis applied and interviewed for the principal job at Westside Elementary.

Celis was not asked back for a second interview. Two white candidates were asked for a second interview, even though, according to the lawsuit, the candidate who got the principal job had less experience as an assistant principal.

Celis has two master's degrees, one in educational leadership and the other in education. He also has a doctorate in education, a degree that the candidate who was given the principal job at Westside does not have, according to the lawsuit.

In December 2018, Celis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

About five months later, Celis interviewed for a job at Heritage Middle School that eventually went to a white candidate who also has less experience than Celis, the lawsuit says.

Both jobs went to the assistant principals at each respective school — Robert Mountjay and Melissa Butler — the district said in its response to Celis' lawsuit.

Catoosa County Public Schools said the two hires it made were for "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons and for non-retaliatory reasons."

The district mostly denied all of Celis' allegations in September and said one of the reasons he wasn't chosen as principal in both instances is because it found Celis "had several 'needs improvement' ratings" after his interviews.

 

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Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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Denia Reese / District photo
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