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Civil Rights Division orders mediation after finding probable cause in discrimination claims against High Plains Library District

The Colorado Civil Rights Division on Wednesday ordered the High Plains Library District to undergo mediation with a former librarian who accused the district of discrimination after her firing in December 2021.

The division found probable cause in Brooky Parks’ complaints that she was fired from her position as the teen services librarian at the Erie Community Library based on her association with youth of color and LGBTQ youth.

In November 2021, Parks previously said, she received a note from Marjorie Elwood, the district’s associate director of public services, about a couple programs Parks had planned, including a Read Woke Book Club, a program during Pride Month about the LGBTQ movement and an anti-racism workshop for teens. She was told the book club had to be renamed and the other programs canceled due to their polarizing nature, she said.

The district answered that the policy change that led to the programming changes was only part of the district’s efforts to earn a Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, which meant making certain performance and resource considerations about what the district was offering.

One month later, Parks was issued a written warning in a performance evaluation — for events that were more than a year old with inaccurate or out-of-context information, she said. She was fired the next day.

Parks hired Iris Halpern, a civil rights attorney and partner at Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, who identified the district’s actions as discrimination. Parks in February 2022 filed complaints with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The division found that the warning issued to Parks was for incidents that weren’t substantiated, including “failing to step in and help with things” and looking “withdrawn and unhappy” during meetings. The district maintains Parks wasn’t satisfactorily performing her job duties and that the warning was based on “poor customer service,” “negative behaviors,” “failing to attend to the important details of (her) job” and “insubordination,” according to the division’s findings.

According to the division, evidence shows Parks expressed to Marjorie Elwood, associate director of public services, and Eric Ewing, associate director of human resources, that the warning was in retaliation for supporting the closing of the district for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and for opposing the district’s new policy that led to the cancellation of her programs.

Ewing, according to the division, said High Plains Executive Director Matthew Hortt made the decision to fire Parks due to “the content of her rebuttal” indicating she wasn’t going to “address the concerns” in the written warning. Hortt, Ewing and Elwood failed to follow up on Parks’ rebuttal and to follow up with her allegations of discrimination and retaliation, the division stated in its findings.

The division found that Parks was fired for “pretextual/unsubstantiated reasons and/or for advocating on behalf of youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, and her programs which serve and/or target marginalized youth.” It supported Parks’ claims of discriminatory firing and retaliation. It also found Hortt, Ewing and Elwood responsible for aiding and abetting discrimination.

The division ordered the High Plains executives to undergo compulsory mediation with Parks to attempt an amicable resolution.

A district spokesman said in an email the district does not comment on ongoing litigation, but it denies Parks’ claims that it discriminated or retaliated against her.

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