Ousted Wayland school superintendent files lawsuit against town, alleging hostile racial environment

By Travis Andersen Boston Globe Staff, Updated March 13, 2024, 2:54 p.m.

Ousted Wayland Public Schools Superintendent Omar X. Easy is suing the town, a former School Committee chair, and a current committee member for allegedly fostering a racially hostile environment that made it impossible for him to perform his duties, legal filings show.

Easy, a former NFL player who grew up in Everett, filed suit Wednesday in Middlesex Superior Court against the town, former School Committee Chair Christopher Ryan, and committee member Ellen Grieco.

“What happened to Dr. Easy is wrong and we look forward to pursuing justice through this case,” said his attorney, Matthew J. Fogelman, in a statement.

The Globe reported last August that Easy, the first Black person to ever lead the Wayland schools, would continue to be paid until his contract expires at the end of June 2024.

He is seeking $5 million in damages, including $1 million in “reasonably anticipated lost wages,” according to court papers, which asserted that Easy hasn’t found a comparable superintendent’s position. He also seeks compensation for emotional distress, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages, among other forms of relief, records show.

His 14-page civil complaint said that Easy was “subjected to a hate crime at work” in December 2022, when someone scrawled “OMAR = [racial slur]” in “huge letters” on a wall next to Wayland High School.

“Far from an isolated incident, racist taunts and graffiti dogged Dr. Easy, Wayland’s first Black Superintendent of Schools … throughout the entirety of his tenure in Wayland,” which lasted from 2021 until the School Committee placed him on leave in February 2023 under dubious circumstances, the complaint said. The committee did not provide a reason for Easy’s leave at the time.

Easy’s complaint accused both Ryan and Grieco “in particular” of fostering “a racially hostile work environment so severe and pervasive that it posed a formidable barrier to the full participation of Black employees, including Dr. Easy, in the workplace.”

Ryan and Grieco didn’t immediately respond to voice and email messages seeking comment Wednesday afternoon. The town manager declined to comment and the acting superintendent couldn’t immediately be reached.

“During a meeting of the Superintendent hiring committee, Vice Chair Grieco suggested that Black people cannot be leaders and lacked leadership skills, and asked the consultants organizing the Superintendent search to find additional White candidates after learning that two of the three finalists were Black,” the complaint said.

In December 2021, graffiti had also been found in the town’s middle school that included an anti-Black racial slur and the phrases “BLACK PEOPLE DIE” and “ALL BLACK PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE THE DISTRICT NOW,” the filing said.

Easy recommended placing cameras in the middle school hallways to address the graffiti, a measure previously taken at the high school, according to the complaint.

“In response, White District administrators and employees accused Dr. Easy of ‘destroying Wayland’s culture’ and ‘bringing Everett culture to Wayland’ — a veiled racist reference to Dr. Easy’s majority-minority hometown,” the complaint said.

And in September 2022, the committee urged Easy to drop a harassment prevention order he’d obtained to protect himself from a female town employee who worked downstairs from his office and who’d called him a “thug and a destroyer” and “a destroyer of relationships, and of goals of this town,” the filing said.

Earlier in June of 2022, the complaint said, Ryan “suggested Dr. Easy would face consequences for opposing discrimination — calling such opposition by Dr. Easy ‘expletive’ and suggesting he had done himself a ‘significant disservice’ by raising such concerns.”

In the spring and early summer of that year, the complaint said, the defendants, including Ryan “in particular,” denigrated a pair of candidates for employment in the Wayland schools, since their professional experience had been obtained in Everett.

Easy voiced concern that such comments were “unlawfully racist,” the complaint said.

“Chair Ryan and Vice Chair Grieco attacked him for expressing these concerns, suggesting that Dr. Easy did not ‘know his place,’ or words to that effect,” the filing said.

The defendants ratcheted up their retaliation as Easy became more vocal in his opposition to the racism, in an effort to “terminate his employment,” according to the lawsuit.

In October 2022, the suit said, “Chair Ryan seized upon meritless and retaliatory complaints of one White, male District principal in order to engineer Dr. Easy’s removal.”

On Oct. 13, 2022, the complaint continued, Easy gave a presentation at a meeting of administrators that dealt with “teacher-on-teacher harassment at multiple schools,” specifically referencing a recent case of race discrimination at the high school and “imploring” the administrators “to live up to Wayland’s stated values, including anti-racism and anti-bullying.”

The message wasn’t received well, according to the suit.

“In retaliation, one or more” administrators “then complained to Chair Ryan,” the filing said. “Parroting the racist trope of the ‘angry Black man,’ the White District administrators alleged — without specifics — that Dr. Easy had attacked, ‘bullied,’ and intimidated participants at the Oct. 13 Meeting.”

During proceedings on Oct. 26, 2022 that were closed to the public, the suit said, the committee voted to retain outside counsel in an effort to manufacture a pretext for terminating Easy.

At committee meetings the following month, “the racist allegations against Dr. Easy, including that he was hostile and aggressive, were widely publicized, as was the School Committee’s decision to hire outside counsel to ‘investigate’ Dr. Easy.”

Easy called on the School Committee in early January 2023 to address the racially hostile work environment, and later that month, “the School Committee learned that its outside attorney-investigator found no evidence that Dr. Easy had engaged in misconduct,” the filing said.

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