Fired METCO Social Worker Settles Lawsuit with Lexington, MA



Black Social Worker Terminated For Advocating For METCO Students

Lawyers for Julia Finley, a Black METCO social worker who alleged she was unlawfully terminated by Lexington Public Schools (LPS) in Massachusetts for advocating for students of color, announced a settlement of her lawsuit against LPS and its former Superintendent. Under the terms of the settlement, the Defendants will pay Ms. Finley a six-figure sum in damages.

Ms. Finley, who was represented in her lawsuit by Lawyers for Civil Rights, is a licensed social worker with a long history of academic and practical experience in child development. She was employed by LPS for nearly 15 years as a teaching/behavioral assistant. In January 2013, Lexington selected Ms. Finley for the position of METCO social worker. METCO is a voluntary desegregation program that enables students of color from Boston neighborhoods to attend public schools in participating suburban communities. The suburban communities are predominantly white. Approximately 4% of the Lexington student population was Black at the time of Ms. Finley’s application.

Shortly after Ms. Finley transitioned into the role of METCO social worker, she alerted school administrators to numerous issues of racial insensitivity that she had observed, including:

  • METCO students being teased by other students with racially insensitive remarks, such as “big lips”;
  • Teachers referring to young METCO boys by racially connotative terms such as “aggressive” and to METCO girls as “sassy”; and
  • Teachers not encouraging high academic achievement standards of METCO students, particularly those who struggled in reading and comprehension.

Ms. Finley alerted school staff to these troubling issues and shared materials with them regarding institutional racism.

The complaint states that in response to her advocacy, Lexington engaged in an campaign to terminate Ms. Finley’s employment. In her 15 years of employment with Lexington, Ms. Finley had never received any formal discipline. Yet after she raised troubling racial incidents to the administration’s attention, she received a disciplinary letter noting purported performance deficiencies that contributed to a poor final evaluation and ultimately led to her termination, according to the complaint.

“Ms. Finley was a Black professional in a predominately white school, and her job involved addressing issues of diversity and inclusion,” stated Sophia Hall, Supervising Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights and one of Ms. Finley’s attorneys. “Unfortunately, the moment the school district realized that Ms. Finley was not content to handle issues superficially, but was instead committed to actually rooting out institutional racism that stood in the way of METCO students’ educational opportunity, they engineered her termination.”

Added Ms. Finley: “One moment I had my dream job working with students of color to ensure that they could receive a good education, and I was being nominated for a District award for showing an extraordinary commitment to diversity in Lexington. The next moment, I was unemployed simply because I did my job.”

In addition to the Lawyers for Civil Rights, Ms. Finley was also represented pro bono by David S. Godkin at Birnbaum & Godkin, LLP.