Denver, CO

Former DougCo assistant principal sues district for discrimination

Suzie Glassman

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Ponderosa High SchoolDouglas County School District

By Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) Former Ponderosa High School assistant principal Corey McNellis filed a lawsuit earlier this month claiming the district fired him in October 2020 for his “Christian beliefs.”

McNellis says administrators told him to “stay home” because of his “religious comments” in emails to Ponderosa staff discussing an upcoming school theater production of The Laramie Project.

According to the case filing, “The Laramie Project is a religiously charged play that covers distressing material. The play depicts the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The murder is widely acknowledged to have been a hate crime motivated by Shepard’s sexuality.”

The school’s theater director, Kayla Diaz, sent an email to staff acknowledging the controversial nature of the play and offering to answer any questions staff may have.

McNellis responded, “Thanks, Kayla, I appreciate the email and I really do admire the hard work that you do. As a Dad of a student here and also as an employee in the school, what is my recourse if I disagree with the production? Was this a heads up to see if everyone is cool?”

Other staff responded to the email, eventually leading McNellis to provide his Christian perspective while stating that he was commenting as a father to a son at the school and not on behalf of the administration.

A few days later, Danny Windsor, then serving as the director of schools for Parker, Tim Ottman, Ponderosa principal, and Cathy Franklin, DCSD human resources director, placed McNellis on administrative leave while investigating his statements about The Laramie Project.

During the investigation, the lawsuit claims other staff members accused McNellis of being a part of the “good ole boys” club for expressing his religious beliefs and exercising his First Amendment rights.

McNellis seeks compensation for damages, “including but not limited to the loss of past and future wages and benefits, loss of professional opportunities, emotional distress, and mental pain and anguish.”

“Douglas County School District has received the complaint and is reviewing it,” the district said in a statement to the Denver Post. “The District respects the rights of its employees to freely exercise a religion of their choosing, or not, and has policies in place that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion.”

“McNellis also filed a joint complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year and received a letter of right to sue from both entities this spring, according to the lawsuit,” wrote the Denver Post.

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