CHICAGO (Reuters) - A white public school teacher in Chicago has filed suit against the city's board of education after he was suspended for using a racial epithet during an in-class discussion about offensive language.
Lincoln Brown, a teacher at the Murray Language Academy on Chicago's southwest side, was suspended for five days as a result of the incident, which happened after he caught some six-graders passing a note with lyrics from a rap song around class.
According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, Brown saw that his students were "unsettled and arguing" about the lyrics, which contained the so-called "N-word."
So Brown decided to use the incident as a teaching opportunity, the suit says, and "conducted a discussion about how upsetting such language can be, attempted to give his own denunciation of the use of such language, and discussed how even such books as (Mark Twain's) 'Huckleberry Finn' were being criticized for the use of the 'N-word.'"
While Brown was conducting the lesson, Gregory Mason, the principal of the Murray Language Academy, stopped by the classroom, observed for a few minutes and then left.
Two weeks later, Mason, who is black, advised Brown that he was being charged with "using verbally abusive language to or in front of a student."
Brown was ultimately found guilty of violating school district rules and an appeal was later denied. Friday was the first day of his suspension.
The lawsuit says that Brown's conduct inside the classroom was a constitutionally protected effort to "teach his class of students an important lesson in vocabulary, civility and race relations." It argues the subsequent disciplinary process violated his due process rights.
Brown is seeking to have his suspension reversed. He is also making an unspecified claim for compensation and punitive damages.
"His career, his record, his life has been seriously jeopardized by these charges of, basically, racism," said William Spielberger, his attorney.
"He wants his career and his reputation restored. This is really troubling to him."
Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools, called the lawsuit "without merit."
The case is Brown v. Board of Education et. al in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois 12-cv-01112.
(Reporting by James Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune)