A U.S. magistrate judge has ruled that Aaron Benner, a former St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) teacher, can seek punitive damages against his former employer, which allegedly retaliated against him after he criticized its “racial equity” policy.
That policy was adopted district-wide in August 2013, and aimed to confront “the institutional racism that results in predictably lower academic achievement for students of color than for their white peers.” Specifically, the policy eliminated “practices that lead to the over or under-representation of any student racial group compared to peers.”
During a May 2014 school board meeting, Benner spoke out against the policy and said it was harming students of color by not holding them accountable for disturbances in the classroom. Benner, an African American with a 20-year teaching career, told the board that “Dr. King would be very disappointed because here we are 51 years later and the concept of the matter at hand is skin color.”
Benner was then subjected to four personnel investigations during the 2014-2015 school year, according to a lawsuit he filed against SPPS after he resigned. According to court documents, Benner left the district after enduring “retaliation” for the entire 2014-2015 school year, and feared that he would be fired at any moment.
He also claims in his lawsuit that he had an impeccable record during his career with SPPS, which worked to “paper” his record with “bogus” investigations and disciplinary measures. Benner argues that he was the target of racial discrimination and that his rights under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act were violated.
Now, The Star Tribune reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Menendez has ruled that Benner can seek punitive damages from SPPS when his case goes to trial in federal court in October.
Menendez said in her ruling that the whistleblower act allows employees to recover “any and all damages.”
The Center of the American Experiment points out that the media has mostly ignored the fact that Benner was abandoned by his union.
“My union rep tried to have me plea to one of the investigations, which made it clear to me that my union was complicit with the district,” Benner said in an October 2018 interview. “My problem with my union is that they sat back and allowed the Saint Paul School District to harass me and did nothing. They took my union dues and did nothing to represent me.”
Benner said that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers was involved in negotiating for the “racial equity” policy.
“I felt betrayed, I was shocked, I was hurt,” he said. “I was always taught that if you had an unjust employer, your union would always protect you. That didn’t happen to me. That’s why I’m so passionate about having the freedom not to pay union dues.”
Benner is now employed as a dean of students at Cretin-Derham Hall, a Catholic school in St. Paul.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Aaron Benner” by Aaron Benner.