a lawyer in his office showing a document with the text lawsuit written in it

The Georgia Association of Educators filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County Schools in the U.S. District Court of Atlanta Monday.

The lawsuit is on behalf of Jeff Corkill, a member of the Georgia Association of Educators and a former teacher at Brookwood High School. It claims the school district violated his rights to free speech and association when he received negative evaluations from Principal Bo Ford in reference to his participation in protests against immigration policies during the summer of 2019.

“The First Amendment does not exclude teachers nor does it allow the evaluation process to be used to chill educators’ civil rights,” Mike McGonigle GAE general counsel and legal services director said in a press release. “All public school employees have the right to protest and speak out on matters of public concern without fear from this kind of retaliation.”

Corkill participated in an organized protest against the government’s immigration policies, where he marched outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office with other nonviolent protesters, according to the lawsuit. Corkill was arrested, along with other protesters, and charged with disorderly conduct. The lawsuit states the charges were dropped and expunged from his permanent record.

When Corkill received his first evaluation for the year, it was conducted personally by Ford, rather than delegated to another school administrator, the lawsuit states. Ford said this was due to Corkill’s grading looking “weird.”

Several negative evaluations followed, one of which specifically referenced Corkill’s participation in the summer 2019 protest.

Corkill is suing the Gwinnett County School District and Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks for damages and equitable relief, according to the lawsuit. Wilbanks is sued both individually and in his official capacity as superintendent.

Ford, who completed Corkill’s teacher evaluations, is sued both individually and officially, according to the lawsuit. 

Corkill, who worked for Gwinnett County School for 18 years, left the district in 2020 to work for Dekalb County School District, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit requests a trial by jury be held and the court declare the negative performance evaluation by Ford a violation of Corkill’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. It also requests the evaluation be expunged from Corkill’s personnel record.

The lawsuit asks for monetary damages, attorney fees and any further relief “this Court deems just and proper.”

Gwinnett County Schools did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.

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