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Erie librarian was wrongly fired after objecting to cancellation of programs on racism and LGBTQ+ youth, state finds

There’s a chance to clear her record at the High Plains Library District of Weld County, possibly change some policies that she believes conflict with her role as a librarian and even receive some financial compensation for losing her job and the stress that caused.

But for now, Brooky Parks is satisfied enough with the validation she received Wednesday when the Colorado Civil Rights Division concluded that the library district violated anti-discrimination laws when she was fired after objecting to the cancellation of two of her programs on racism and LGBTQ+ teens.

“I felt like I had finally been heard and acknowledged,” Parks said in an interview Thursday.

After all, such conclusions by the state civil rights divisions are rare, Parks’ attorney, Iris Halpern, said. She didn’t know the exact percentage but was certain it was in the single digits, maybe even less than 5% of the time.

The division ruled that the district violated state prohibitions on discriminatory firing and retaliation, and that three employees aided and abetted the discrimination.

Parks was fired in December 2021 from her job as a teen librarian at the Erie Community Library and filed her claim a year ago with the help of Halpern, a partner with Rathod and Mohamedbhai, a Denver law firm that specializes in civil rights cases.

The district changed its programming policy and used those changes, she says, to cancel her programs and change the name of the Read Woke Book Club for teens. Parks objected and then sent letters to the community about the policy changes and urged people to take action. She claims she was fired in retaliation and that the district lied about her performance record to justify the firing.

The High Plains district does not comment with regard to ongoing litigation, said James Melena, the library district’s spokesman, but also said the district denies Parks’ claims.

“We disagree with the commissions’ findings and look forward to continuing to provide library services to our patrons across the district,” Melena said.

What happens next is complicated, Halpern said, but here are the basics:

  • The division will ask High Plains to take some steps to resolve the discrimination. They should reach out to Halpern in a couple months, she said.
  • Halpern said she and Parks would likely request that the library district change or remove the policy that led to the conflict. The district has not denied a new policy exists and that board members advocated for it. The policy states that program topics should reflect community interests and not be intended to persuade participants to a particular point of view. The district also should not present programs that are inflammatory or polarizing, its policy says. Parks said her concern was that the district could cancel any program under the policy. Halpern said it’s likely the division would ask for that policy to be removed. “That’s likely on the table,” she said.
  • If the division can’t resolve the conflicts, it could refer the case to the district attorney’s office or eventually allow Parks to sue on her own in court.

Parks was required to bring the case to the division before she was allowed to pursue a lawsuit. All state and federal discrimination and civil rights claims must be “administratively exhausted” by law, regardless of whether it’s a public or private employee, Halpern said.

She’s also hoping for some financial relief and to have her reputation repaired. It’s possible that her record could be changed to a resignation, meaning she wouldn’t have to answer “yes” to the question of if she’d ever been fired. It took her a year to find a new job because of the damage High Plains did to her reputation, she said. She is now a reference librarian at the University of Denver.

But she’s also hoping for wholesale changes at the district. The policy, she said, “needs to be fixed.”

“We have board members that run a library based on their personal beliefs instead of what a library is supposed to be,” Parks said, “and leadership willing to carry out those beliefs. The library has a lot of things it needs to work on.”

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