Cary principal says charter school fired him over diverse hiring, COVID mask mandate

·4 min read

A principal of a charter school in Cary who was fired after less than two months in charge is suing the school’s parent company in federal court.

Brian Bauer was hired by Charter Schools USA to lead Cardinal Charter Academy, a tuition-free, K-8 public charter school in Cary, in mid-July, according to a civil complaint originally filed in Wake County in late October. He was fired around Sept. 2, shortly after the start of the school year.

Bauer accuses school officials of firing him “for his hiring of racially diverse staff and/or his insistence on enforcement of the school’s Reopening Plan,” which included a school-wide mask mandate and quarantine requirements for students in certain circumstances.

He claims his firing for those reasons was a violation of state policy against racial discrimination in employment, and state guidelines on masking in schools. Bauer also says his firing breached an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” in his contract.

He is seeking at least $25,000 for damages including lost wages and loss of earning capacity, in addition to interest accrued from the date he was fired until it is paid.

Lawyers for Charter Schools USA did not return messages from The News & Observer on Thursday requesting comment for this story.

Opposition to racially diverse hiring

After he was hired in mid-July, the lawsuit alleges, Bauer found out there were more than 20 staff vacancies “due to actions by the prior school administration.”

Within his first 45 days in charge, Bauer had hired 22 new staff members, eight of whom were African American.

At least one member of the school’s board of directors, who was not identified in the complaint, “explicitly stated her disapproval” of Bauer’s hiring practices.

Another employee, Charter Schools USA’s state director for North Carolina, also expressed disapproval of Bauer’s hiring of diverse applicants, the complaint states.

Complaints about student quarantine policy

Bauer also devised the school’s reopening plan, which required all students, teachers, staff and visitors to wear a face covering regardless of their vaccination status. The school’s guidelines also required students to quarantine if they tested positive for COVID-19.

The complaint states that upon starting as principal, Bauer observed several employees not following school’s masking policy. Around Aug. 20, Bauer held a meeting with employees during which he “castigated the staff to achieve their compliance with the mask mandate.”

After school began on Aug. 23, Bauer received complaints from parents about the quarantine policy, including some members of the school board whose children were required to quarantine, the lawsuit states.

Bauer was fired approximately 10 days later “without any warning,” and said he has been unable to find employment since then. He filed the lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court on Oct. 29.

Bauer previously worked as a school administrator in North Carolina for more than 10 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He was an assistant principal at two high schools in Brunswick and New Hanover counties, before becoming the assistant principal at Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville, about 25 minutes north of Charlotte. In order to take the job at Cardinal Charter Academy, he and his family moved to Johnston County, according to the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina after Charter Schools USA requested the case be heard in its “original jurisdiction.”

Tory Summey, an attorney for Charter Schools USA, which is based in Delaware and operates primarily out of Florida, argued in a court filing that the company should be considered a citizen of another state, and that federal district court would therefore be the appropriate venue.

A copy of Bauer’s offer letter included in court filings shows that he had agreed to terms that included an annual salary of $95,000, an annual bonus of up to 10% of his salary, a monthly cellphone allowance, and a $7,500 relocation assistance fee that required a two-year commitment to the company.

Another section of the letter states that the company “may terminate the employment relationship at any time within the school year, with or without notice or reason.”

Summey and Stacy Wood, lawyers for Charter Schools USA, did not return The News & Observer’s requests for comment on Thursday.

Joseph Budd, an attorney for Bauer, said Bauer was not available for an interview at this time.

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