CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Black North Carolina teacher has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a Charlotte charter school, alleging he was fired after some White parents opposed his teaching of a novel about a Black teen struggling with "racial injustice" during Black History Month.
Charlotte Secondary School hired Markayle Gray on a contract basis to teach seventh and eighth grade English last October, according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court on Monday.
The school terminated his contract in February over what the lawsuit described as "racially inspired backlash" over Gray's teaching of the novel "Dear Martin" to his seventh-grade honors students along with "other aspects" of the class content connected to "racial equality."
"Dear Martin" is a New York Times bestseller about a Black teenager who falls victim to racial profiling by law enforcement.
Some White parents complained to school administrators that the novel's content "was divisive and injected what they regarded as unwelcome views on systemic racial inequality into their children's classroom," according to the lawsuit.
When reached for comment regarding the lawsuit, attorneys for Charlotte Secondary told CNN they were limited in what they could say about the reasons for Gray's termination, because it was a personnel matter.
"However, I can say that the termination of Mr. Gray's employment was based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory, nonretaliatory reasons. The School denies any and all allegations of wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend the suit," said attorney Katie Weaver Hartzog, who represents the school.
Attorneys for Gray say the school's principal had previously approved and recommended the young adult novel "as a challenging but age-appropriate work that promoted a discussion of core American values like justice and equality," the suit said.
Additionally, the lawsuit says Gray was fired because the principal was seeking to avoid pressure from North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction after she learned a complaint had been circulated to the department stating that a teacher at Charlotte Secondary was teaching "Critical Race Theory," according to the lawsuit.
The department has no record of a complaint about a teacher at Charlotte Secondary teaching critical race theory, according to Blair Rhoades, a department spokesperson.
"We have no record of this complaint. However, if we did, it would be considered a confidential personnel record as it relates to school employees and would therefore not be subject to public disclosure," Rhoades told CNN.
Artur Davis, an attorney for Gray, told CNN that evidence will show the teacher "was fired because he is a young Black man, teaching about racism in society."
"We are confident we are going to prove our claim in a court of law," Davis added.
The lawsuit said Charlotte Secondary's student body is about 80% to 85% Black, Hispanic, or biracial, and its faculty is evenly split between White people and people of color.
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