The superintendent of the city of Buford’s school district used racist language and spoke of wanting to kill black construction workers who had angered him, according to accusations in a race-discrimination lawsuit.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, includes audio recordings to buttress its claims.
» FROM 2006: A Q&A with new Buford Schools superintendent Geye Hamby
» FROM 2006: Geye Hamby oversees the first day of school in Buford
Superintendent Geye Hamby, in two recorded conversations, allegedly used racial epithets repeatedly when referring to African-American workers at a construction site, according to the recordings attached to the lawsuit.
“(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) – shoot that (expletive) if they let me,” the person identified as Hamby can be heard saying. The person speaking repeatedly refers to blacks as “deadbeat (n-word).”
Hamby declined to address the allegations.
“This is a personnel and legal matter pertaining to a disgruntled employee,” he said in a statement emailed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “District council has advised not to comment.”
Lawyers representing Hamby and the school district, in a response to the lawsuit filed Aug. 1, denied allegations that Hamby openly uses racist language when referring to black people.
Walt Britt, a Buford attorney representing the five-member school board, said the board is aware of the “purported audio recording of Geye Hamby.”
Britt added, “(W)e have been unable to determine its veracity and authenticity and whether the recording was altered and was at the consent of at least one party or the product of illegal surveillance. Our investigation continues into this matter, but we are hamstrung in that the plaintiff has failed or refused to produce the original recording for testing or provide any information concerning the background or foundation of the recording.”
Hamby (whose first name is pronounced GUY) has led the Buford schools since 2006. The four-school district has only about 4,800 students, but Hamby’s 2017 base salary was $308,000, among the highest among superintendents in the state, records show.
The lawsuit does not say when Hamby allegedly made these remarks or with whom he was speaking. It also does not specify where the recordings came from. It’s possible the person making the racist comments did not know he was being recorded at the time.
Atlanta lawyer Ed Buckley, who represents the plaintiff in the lawsuit, declined to disclose where he obtained the recordings or say when the conversations occurred. But Buckley, who hired an expert to examine and analyze the audio, said he is certain it’s Hamby making the racist comments in the recordings. He also denied the district’s claim that they have “failed or refused” to produce the audio.
“It is embedded in the complaint. They have it,” he said.
Buckley’s client, Mary Ingram, 66, filed suit against Hamby and Buford’s school district in late June. A Buford native, she worked for the city school system for more than 18 years, mostly as a paraprofessional.
August 15, 2018 Atlanta - Mary Ingram, former employee with Buford City Schools, speaks at Buckley Beal law office on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Ingram and Hamby clashed after she questioned 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. Ingram said an agreement had been reached decades ago to have gold incorporated into Buford schools’ colors.
Ingram, one of the first dozen blacks to graduate from the newly integrated school system in 1970, circulated a petition in support of including gold and then presented it to the school board in September 2014. She also brought it up at City Hall meetings.
“I was afraid we were about to lose our heritage,” Ingram said in a recent interview with The AJC. “I wanted them to know it was important to the community.”
Weeks later, when she encountered Hamby in a hallway, Ingram asked him why he didn’t speak to her. “No, I didn’t speak to you and I don’t have to and probably would never speak to you again,” Hamby said, according to the lawsuit.
Ingram said she was later called into a meeting with Hamby. He told her that while he couldn’t stop her from attending school board and city commission meetings, he wanted her to tell him in advance what she planned to say at the meetings, the lawsuit said.
Ingram refused, saying that would infringe on her right to free speech, the suit said.
Ingram, who had received glowing evaluations up to that point, began getting written up, including an admonition that she stop encouraging school children to smile after they got off the bus in the morning, the suit said.
August 15, 2018 Atlanta - Mary Ingram, former employee with Buford City Schools, speaks as her attorney Edward Buckley looks at Buckley Beal law office on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Ingram continued to receive write-ups over the next two years until June 14, 2017, when she was told she was fired. Her termination letter said she was “perceived as being disrespectful, argumentative and unfriendly and not a good fit in a school environment.”
“I couldn’t move,” Ingram said of her reaction to the news. “I just froze. My legs felt weak. … Before this happened, I looked forward every morning to getting up and going to work to do things for the children.”
Ingram said she didn’t decide to file suit until she heard the audio recordings, which surprised and disturbed her.
“This is the man who is over our children,” she said of Hamby.
Located about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta in Gwinnett County, Buford’s school system has roughly 4,800 students, about 53 percent of whom are white, 30 percent are Latino, 11 percent are African-American and the rest Asian or multiracial, state Department of Education records show. Last year, Buford was ranked the top district in the state, according to Niche.com, an education and real estate analysis site. The city’s school board is all white.
Buckley, one of Atlanta’s most prominent plaintiff’s lawyers, alleges that Ingram was the victim of race discrimination and retaliation and also had her free speech rights violated.
Buford City Schools Superintendent Geye Hamby.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“She was well thought of by principals and children and very dedicated to what she did,” Buckley said. “It’s disgraceful that she would be fired because of her race and the race of her constituents for whom she stood up in public meetings during the exercise of her First Amendment rights.”
As for the audio recordings, Buckley said, “We think (it) speaks for itself in terms of the superintendent’s motivation regarding her termination.”
Britt, the attorney representing the school board, said “the district does not comment on personnel matters other than to say that (Ingram) was terminated for cause and neglect of her duties.”
In the conversations captured on audio, the person said to be Hamby uses the n-word eight times.
He talks with disdain about African-American temp workers at a job site. At one point, he asked the man next to him how many of these “deadbeat (n-word)” are there.
When the man replies there were 10, the person identified as Hamby says, “Well, (expletive), they said they’s from a temp service, so I guess … have you got more of these big (n-word) than the ones from the temp service?”
The person identified as Hamby then expresses disgust with one worker who was on his cellphone and who “got smart” when asked what he was supposed to be doing.
“He said he worked for the temp service and he didn’t have to do what the (expletive) we tell him to do,” the person identified as Hamby said. “(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) — shoot that (expletive) if they let me. Alright. Well, check out what’s going on with all the (n-word) down there.”
In the second recording, the person said to be Hamby is again complaining about the black temp workers.
“Send us a park-quality person,” he said. “Don’t send us a deadbeat (n-word) from a temp service. … Well, (expletive), we can find you some kids around here that want a damn job. … Well, look, we’ve got, we’ve got young kids right here that put in the work. They can do more than the damn deadbeat (n-word).”
-Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this story