A recently fired math teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit after school officials allegedly severed ties with him over “inappropriate texting” with a female student.
In the suit, filed last month in U.S. District Court, Arthur “Chuck” Matthews, who is black, alleges that Dr. Priscilla Sands, who is white, wrongfully terminated his one-year contract in September after learning about the digital communications.
Neither the student, who was a senior at the time, nor the student’s parents found any texts from Matthews troubling, according to the complaint.
Matthews, a 14-year staffer starting in 1998, maintains that Sands, who heads the private institution in Northwest Philadelphia, violated his civil rights and defamed him, calling his removal “emotionally and professioinally catastrophic.” He is seeking, among other things, $5 million in damages.
It’s unclear which text messages lead to Matthews’ dismissal, but Matthews was told they were in direct violation of school policy, a claim he contends is untrue.
A school spokesperson said the school could not comment on pending litigation.
Sands allegedly didn’t divulge that information when she sent Matthews a written warning in August or when she fired him on Sept. 11, according to the suit. Sands allegedly asked Matthews to resign each time, but, seeing no wrongdoing, Matthews refused.
The exact nature of the “improper” texts was also not revealed in a letter penned by Sands and sent to a select group of parents informing them of Matthews’ alleged behavior.
In the four-paragraph document included with the complaint, Sands writes that “although the text communications were personal, they were not sexual in nature.”
The letter further states that the communications did not require Matthews to be fired.
“While we believed Mr. Matthews had used his poor judgment, the evidence did not suggest that he was a danger to any of our students nor was he predatory in his behavior,” the letter reads.
There were, nonetheless, rumors about Matthews and the student, according to the suit. A female student claimed that the two had “engaged in an immoral personal relationship.”
‘No rational explanation’
Matthews maintains that all of the text messages he exchanged with the unidentified student, who graduated in June, were “clearly related to school activities or tangential to situations at SCH.”
The ambiguity, said attorney Willan Franklyn Joseph, who is representing Matthews, left racial discrimination as the only viable motive for his client’s termination.
“Given where we are, there is no rational explanation for Priscilla Sands’ action under the circumstances other than what we’ve said,” said Joseph. “There’s nothing that Mr. Matthews has to hide or be ashamed about.”
For context, the complaint describes a culture of discrimination that was systemic at the school with an “almost all-white staff.” For nearly his entire career at SCH, Matthews was the only black teacher in the Upper School.
SCH Academy enrolls students from pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade. The Upper School covers grades 9-12.
“Historically, black employees, regardless of their position, have been denied promotions and are subjected to harsher discipline, unfair demotion, and unjust termination in circumstances where non-black staff are, or have been treated more favorably,” says the suit.
The school must file a response to Matthews’ complaint by Jan. 14.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Matthews’ nickname.