A federal lawsuit claims that the principal of an Alabama Catholic school – who nearly doubled her school’s enrollment by recruiting Latino students – was fired for allegedly standing up against a staff member who made derogatory statements about Hispanic students.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by Maria Nolen, the former principal of St. Ann Catholic School in Decatur, states that she had repeated confrontations with her secretary, the wife of an advisory board member and financial advisor to the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, after the secretary refused to participate in activities to help Latino students and made disparaging comments about the students.
“Can you believe how stupid Mrs. Nolen is to think I am going to give up my Saturday to help these people?" the secretary said, according to the lawsuit.
The secretary (whose name has not been reported) allegedly made a series of disparaging comments, including putting up a sign with written instructions on doors and saying, "if they could speak English and read it, this would help,” AL.com reported.
Nolen claims she was instructed by the director of human resources for the diocese to stop reprimanding the secretary, but Nolen refused and the secretary quit in October 2014.
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The principal was accused two months later of embezzling funds by a supervisor who demanded her resignation. In her lawsuit, Nolen denies any wrongdoing and says she wasn't given a chance to rebut the allegation.
When Nolen took over as principal in July 2012, the school was in financial distress and had students from only 54 families. After raising more than $176,000 from scholarship organizations for underprivileged students, Nolen was able to bring enrollment up to 90 families.
A lawyer for the diocese said that Nolen was not fired for her confrontations over the secretary’s remarks.
"Maria Nolen was not terminated for the reasons she alleges in her complaint or for any other discriminatory reason," said John Whitaker, an attorney for the diocese. "We are an inclusive religion and thus would not exclude anyone for reasons related to their race. Hispanics are as welcome in our churches and schools as any other race."
The head of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, Bishop Robert J. Baker, said he was unaware of the allegations in the lawsuit, but would look into the matter.
In her lawsuit, Nolen is seeking back pay and punitive and compensatory damages.