An athletic director at a small college claims she was passed over for a similar job with the Gateway School District because she is married to a Black man, according to a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Friday by Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis, claims that Korie Morton-Rozier experienced “race discrimination” when the school board opted to hire football coach Don Holl, who is white, to also serve as athletic director. The suit says the decision came after School Director Paul Caliari, in a group text message chat with other school directors, inquired whether Morton-Rozier “date(ed) the darkies.”
Morton-Rozier has been married to a Black man since 2005, according to the lawsuit. She is the athletic director for Penn State-Greater Allegheny.
“My client wants to be clear that (the lawsuit) isn’t about the great work Gateway’s teachers are doing. This is solely about the hiring process in the district,” Hollis told the Tribune-Review. “Mrs. Morton-Rozier is a good person and her qualifications should be based solely on her ability to do the job. Who she’s dating or married to should never be a part of the equation.”
The lawsuit lists the Gateway School District and Caliari as defendants.
Caliari declined to comment for this story, instead deferring to district Solicitor Bruce Dice. Reached Saturday, Dice said: “I don’t have anything to say today.”
School board Director Rick McIntyre, who suggested Morton-Rozier apply for the position, says Caliari’s seemingly unsolicited message from Feb. 11 had nothing to do with the topic being discussed in the thread.
McIntyre said the pair had been discussing the potential hire of Morton-Rozier over the phone, and that the message was sent about 15 minutes after their conversation.
“Didn’t she start dating the darkies,” Caliari asked in the message thread. He did not mention Morton-Rozier by name — though board President Brian Goppman said it wasn’t hard to figure out who he was talking about.
“We have a voting meeting coming up in a few hours. There’s a male candidate and a female candidate. You can put two-and-two together,” said Goppman, who added that he doesn’t think Caliari is a racist.
McIntyre, who says he was offended by the slur, said he called Caliari immediately to both confront him and inform him that he’d sent the message to the entire group.
“He told me he was trying to send the message to me (only) and mistakenly sent it to the whole group,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said Caliari then “concocted” a story for the group in attempt to save face.
The Tribune-Review obtained a portion of the group message thread consisting of all of the Gateway School District directors and Superintendent Bill Short.
Several minutes later, Caliari replies: “Misfire. Nobody on this text chain married into the Darki family.”
Board member Susan Delaney, who is Black, replied to Caliari, “Paul, please explain your text, so I don’t misunderstand you.”
Caliari’s reply said that he went to college with a pair of brothers whose last name was “Darki.” He said one of his pals used to date the wife of one of the brothers and was asking what had become of her. “I told him she started dating one of the darkies.”
There was no more discussion about the slur on that thread. That was for good reason, McIntyre said.
“Anything we say in that chat is considered public information,” he said.
The board voted that evening in favor of Holl by a 7-1 vote. McIntyre voted in favor of the hire, with Delaney voting against it. Goppman abstained.
The lawsuit states that the board knew Morton-Rozier was the target of the epithet.
The district issued a statement Saturday night saying that its employment practice includes a “non-discrimination policy” that is in accordance with state and federal laws.. They outlined the district’s hiring process for the athletic director position from the applications to the whittling down of candidates. At the end, they said, administration submits its choice to the school board.
“Mr. Don Holl’s name was placed on the (Feb. 2020) agenda for approval, and the School Board voted 7-1, approving the administrative recommendation,” the statement concluded.
Caliari attended Waynesburg University as an undergraduate, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Hollis said his investigation team contacted the school, which reported that there was neither a Brian nor a Pete Darki — or anyone else by that surname — who had attended that school.
Waynesburg University officials could not be reached over the weekend.
Beyond the shock of racial epithets used in a public forum, Hollis said he’s “appalled” that it took 10 months for the information to surface.
“(Gateway) has a responsibility to exude transparency. Why didn’t we learn about this until December?” he said. “When the facts come out, the residents of Monroeville should be apprised to who is making decisions for the education of their children and whether they should remain in positions of leadership.”
McIntyre acknowledged that he should have come forward with the information sooner but said he didn’t want to “hurt” Morton-Rozier, with whom he attended high school, and he didn’t want to blemish the school district.
“I should have been more forthcoming,” McIntyre said. “My decision to protect (Gateway) was (with) good intentions, but it’s not good to let someone with that mindset continue to make decisions that impact our students. It’s been wearing on me, and I can’t protect someone that makes racist comments. Those beliefs have no place in public education or our community.”
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