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Pine Bluff Principal Sues North Little Rock School DistrictLock Icon

2 min read

Michael Nellums, the principal of Pine Bluff High School, has sued the North Little Rock School District alleging he wasn’t hired by the district because he’s black.

Nellums’ complaint, filed last month in federal court, said he applied this summer for an assistant principal’s job at North Little Rock High School. Despite his “superior objective qualifications,” the suit said, he wasn’t called for an interview.

Nellums’ suit said that North Little Rock High School Principal Scott Jennings instead chose Richard O’Connell, a white male, and, according to the lawsuit, a friend of Jennings. “The objective qualifications of the plaintiff for the position of assistant principal of the high school dwarf those of Richard O’Connell,” Nellums’ suit said.

The lawsuit said Nellums filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had given him notice of his right to sue.

Nellums’ lawsuit, filed by Little Rock lawyer John W. Walker, is asking that he be awarded the assistant principal’s job with appropriate pay and benefits, undefined compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

In an email, the North Little Rock School District, asked by Arkansas Business for a response, said only that it was “an equal opportunity employer.”

Legal Dueling

The lawsuit is not Nellums’ first. In 2017, he sued the Pine Bluff School District alleging, among other things, age discrimination after the district failed to hire him as its human resources director. That lawsuit, also in federal court, sought $1 million in compensatory damages and $150,000 in equitable relief.

In December 2018, Nellums’ lawyer, also Walker, reported to the court that his client and the district had discussed settlement, with Nellums’ moving in January to dismiss his claim with prejudice, meaning it could not be refiled.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller dismissed the case in February.

Whispers readers may recall Nellums’ name from July 2018, when we reported that the Pine Bluff School District had settled a harassment case in federal court with a former math teacher, Celeste Alexander, for $50,000. Nellums had also been named as a defendant in Alexander’s lawsuit, which had been filed in 2016.

The school denied all liability, but agreed that a jury could rule in Alexander’s favor, according to court filings in Alexander’s case.

Meanwhile, in Jefferson County Circuit Court, Nellums filed suit in June against Celeste Alexander and her mother, Loretta Alexander, who is a teacher at Pine Bluff High. Nellums accuses Loretta Alexander of defaming him in a statement emailed to the Pine Bluff School Board and accuses both women of seeking to harm his reputation.

Little Rock lawyer Lawrence A. Walker represents Nellums in that lawsuit.

In their response, filed by J. Cotten Cunningham of Little Rock’s Barber Law Firm, the Alexanders deny Nellums’ allegations of defamation.

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