School officials with Springside Chestnut Hill Academy say they did not defame a former math teacher when they fired him for allegedly sending “inappropriate” texts to a female student, according to court documents filed Monday.
In a racial discrimination lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last month, Arthur “Chuck” Matthews alleges that Dr. Priscilla Sands, the private school’s president, wrongfully terminated his contract in September after learning about the text messages. He maintains that Sands violated his civil rights and defamed him in the process.
Matthews specifically points to a letter sent to the parents of Matthews’ students that informed them that the school had looked into text messages Matthews sent. The four-paragraph document characterized the texts as “personal,” but “not sexual in nature.” It also said they were not grounds for dismissal.
The school is denying Matthews’ claims, including one that it intentionally inflicted any emotional distress, according to a response filed Monday. The school also distanced itself from Matthews’ claims that he was fired because of his race, saying that the institution “does not discriminate against any employees based on race or any other protected characteristic.” Matthews is African American and Sands is white.
Attorney Willan Franklyn Joseph, who is representing Matthews, has said that his client filed the racial discrimination suit because there was no other “rational explanation” for his termination.
The original complaint maintains that neither the student, who graduated in June, nor her parents found any of Matthews’ text messages troubling.
Monday’s response argues that Matthews was fired based on “credible reports of multiple text messages to two students” and a subsequent investigation led by Sands, which included interviews with the students who allegedly received inappropriate texts from Matthews, in addition to interviews with their parents.
While it remains unclear what was specifically communicated, Sands did relay to Matthews that the texts were “‘personal’ and, possibly ‘suggestive,'” according to court documents. Monday’s response also maintains that Matthews’ termination was the result of “progressive discipline.”
In August, Sands sent Matthews a written warning and, according to Matthews, asked that he quit. In September, when she reportedly learned of an additional text, she met with Matthews and offered him the opportunity to resign instead of being terminated. Matthews decided against that option, prompting Sands to fire him, according to Monday’s response.
Matthews was fired Sept. 11, two weeks into the new school year. Matthews, who taught at the school for 14 years, maintains that the school “prematurely” ended his one-year contract. The school says it has the right to terminate a contract “at will,” according to court documents.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Matthews’ nickname.