Teacher Who Sued Over Right to Use the “N” Word In Class Loses in Court

A white Chicago teacher who sued in federal court over his right to use the “N” word had his civil suit thrown out by a federal judge last week.

Lincoln Brown, a 48 year old Chicago public school teacher, accused his black principal and Chicago Public Schools of violating his rights by punishing him for using the “N” word during a “teachable moment.”

Brown was suspended for five days without pay in 2011 for using the “N” word as part of a lesson on racism.

According to Brown, he used the term after two of his students were caught passing notes with rap lyrics that included the word, according to the according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Brown claimed that he used the racially inflammatory term in the context of Huckleberry Finn  to demonstrate the damage language can do.

Principal of Murray Language Academy, George Mason, heard Brown use the racial slur as he was walking into the classroom and disciplined the teacher with a suspension.

A CPS hearing upheld the principal’s decision and ruled that Brown had “engaged in inappropriate discussions with sixth-grade students during instructional time,” CBS Chicago reports.

Brown says the suspension ruined his reputation as an educator.

“This cannot be a part of what people think I am,” Brown said. “My character has been assassinated.”

In Thursday’s ruling, however, U.S. District Judge Manish Shah ruled that Brown’s constitutional rights had not been violated.

“Public employers can regulate the speech of their employees without regard to First Amendment limits when the speech at issue is uttered in the course of the employee’s duties,” Shah wrote. “There is now no dispute that teachers may not use racial, cultural and ethnic epithets in the classroom; this policy was in place before Brown’s conduct in this case; and Brown knew it.”

Brown’s attorney, William Spielberger, viewed the ruling as an injustice.

“Lincoln Brown teaches courses on civil rights, and right after this incident, he would normally show a video of his own father marching with MLK in Marquette Park, and the crowd shouting ‘n lover’ at him,” Spielberger said. “This ruling appears to say that Lincoln Brown cannot show this video to his students or anyone in the CPS system because of the use of the word. And I think that’s a tragedy.”


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