Buford settles racial lawsuit that roiled city school system

Former Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby. (Buford City Schools)

Credit: Buford City Schools

Credit: Buford City Schools

Former Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby. (Buford City Schools)

A race discrimination lawsuit that sent Buford’s school system into turmoil and prompted the departure of its superintendent has been settled, according to court records.

The case gained notoriety across the U.S. and overseas because it included audio recordings of racist rants said to have been uttered by then-superintendent Geye Hamby. The person identified as Hamby in the lawsuit used vile, bigoted language and spoke openly about wanting to kill Black workers at a construction site.

At the time, Hamby was one of the highest-paid superintendents in the state, earning $308,000 a year. He was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 21, 2018, the same day The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story about the litigation. He resigned three days later.

Buford City Schools Superintendent Geye Hamby submitted this resignation letter on Aug. 24, 2018.

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The lawsuit was filed by Mary Ingram, a former paraprofessional. She said she was fired after clashing with Hamby over the school district’s colors. She wanted gold to be included because it was representative of the city’s Black school district before it was integrated in 1969.

The case went into court-ordered mediation, and a resolution was filed earlier this month.

“The matter has been resolved to our satisfaction,” Ed Buckley, one of Ingram’s attorneys, said Monday.

Brent Bean, an attorney for the school system, did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.

Buford native Mary Ingram, who worked as a paraprofessional, filed suit against the Buford school system in June 2018. She contends former superintendent Geye Hamby retaliated against her because she questioned the school board why the color gold — representing the city’s black school district before the system was integrated in 1969 — wasn’t included in the district’s green and white emblem.Hamby resigned in August 2018, just days after the AJC published a story about the recordings. (CREDIT: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

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Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Attorneys for the school district had tried to get the suit thrown out but U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross declined to dismiss it. She also ruled that the plaintiff’s lawyers could put recordings of the racist rant into evidence at trial.

The person in the recordings, identified as Hamby, can be heard saying, “(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) — shoot that (expletive) if they’d let me. All right. Well, check out what’s going on with all these (n-word) out here.”

After the recordings became public, hundreds of parents and students filled the school board’s meeting room, where tempers flared. Several demanded Hamby’s resignation.

Buford formed a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, composed of parents, district employees and community members. An interim superintendent replaced Hamby until July 2019, when the school board hired Robert Downs as its new leader.

During a pretrial deposition, Hamby was asked if he’d ever used the n-word. “I may have used it before, for sure,” he said.

Even though Hamby (whose first name is pronounced “GUY”) agreed the voice on the recordings sounded like him, he denied making the statements. “I don’t recall ever saying anything like that, ever,” he said.

In a 2018 interview, Buford school board chairman Phillip Beard acknowledged his voice was on the recordings as well and said he believed the statements were made in the fall of 2016 at a construction site for the Buford Arena. As to the person making the racist rant, Beard said, “It’s Hamby for sure.”

Buford City School Board Chairman Phillip Beard during an August 2018 interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (HYOSUB SHIN/hshin@ajc.com)

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Beard backed off that during his pretrial deposition. “I don’t know if it’s him or not,” Beard said. “It’s sounding like him.”

University of Montana professor Al Yonoitz, an audio expert used by Ingram’s lawyers, testified there was no sign the recordings were altered. He said the likelihood that the person making the remarks was someone other than Hamby was “extremely small, perhaps less than 10%.”