‘Racist and divisive’: Minnesotans take critical race theory fight to court

Minnesotans are fighting back against the "racist and divisive" ideology of critical race theory, which they say has overrun their workplaces and schools.

A group of Minnesotans gathered at the Capitol Monday to announce lawsuits against critical race theory in their workplaces and schools. (Upper Midwest Law Center/Facebook)

Some Minnesotans say they have been bullied, retaliated against, and even demoted for speaking out against critical race theory in their places of work and education.

And now they are taking matters into their own hands, they said at a press conference earlier this week at the Minnesota Capitol, where three new lawsuits were announced.

In two of the cases, the parties are required to present their claims to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before proceeding with a lawsuit. In a third case against Lakeville Area Schools, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court.

“Our clients are bravely confronting CRT-inspired bullying, indoctrination and retaliation, which is not ‘training’ or persuasion,” said Doug Seaton, whose Upper Midwest Law Center is representing the plaintiffs in all three cases.

“The U.S. Constitution, the federal Civil Rights laws, and their Minnesota counterparts don’t permit this race-based discrimination, retaliation, compelled speech, and invasion of privacy,” he said.

Hennepin Healthcare System 

Tara Gustilo was the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Hennepin Healthcare System, formerly known as HCMC, but was “demoted essentially because of her polite opposition to the critical race theory that’s saturating her organization,” according to Seaton.

Gustilo, a Filipino-American doctor, discussed the rich diversity of her background at Monday’s press conference.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I’m bringing this lawsuit forward. My reasons for doing so are similar to my reasons for speaking out in the first place,” she said. “I see a racist and divisive ideology of race essentialism taking over our nation and my institution. Further, there seems to be this growing intolerance for people with different opinions or ideas and it seems that this tribalistic ideology is fostering that kind of intolerance.”

In her charge of discrimination, Gustilo claims she first spoke up when a program she helped create “began to morph into racially segregated care.”

The program was intended to help staff “better understand the varying traditions and cultures of the diverse community” they serve.

“However, I noticed that members of the department instead began to transform the program from one that simply sought to respect and appreciate the various cultures to one of segregated care based on race,” she writes in her complaint.

Gustilo also objected to her department’s public support of a Black Lives Matter event, a group she opposes because of its advancement of CRT. The event also violated HHS policy against affiliating with political groups, she writes.

A third element of her complaint alleges that HR and “the medical executive team” took issue with some of her anti-CRT Facebook posts, which they said hindered her “ability to lead.”

The accomplished doctor says she was told to either step down as chair or face removal. She refused to step down and was formally removed as chair in April of this year.

In her scathing testimony, Gustilo writes that her colleagues “successfully advocated for race essentialism, specifically, for segregated care and policies that reverse the decades of progress made in fighting for equality.”

“They also assumed that I as a minority should possess this same view on race, and that without this view, I was incapable of leading or managing a department,” she adds.

Minnesota Department of Human Services 

Joe Norgren was an employee for 27 years at the Minnesota Security Hospital, an entity within the Minnesota Department of Human Services, until he was allegedly forced to retire early because of the hostility he faced for his “refusal to subscribe to CRT and abandon [his] religious beliefs.”

Norgren, a Native American, was required to participate in a training on “How to be Anti-Racist” and another called “Understanding Gender Identity and Expression.”

He participated in the first training, which taught him that America is the “source” of “racist ideas,” but asked for a religious exemption to the second. His request was denied.

Norgren claims that he faced similar religious discrimination in October 2018 when his supervisor asked him “how many genders existed.”

“While I felt uncomfortable answering, because he was my supervisor and I was on shift, I responded that I believed there were only two genders and two sexes, based on everything I read and researched on DNA and biology,” he writes in his complaint. “As we continued to discuss and disagree on this topic, he told me I could be fired for the way I think or talk.”

Norgren argues that he was discriminated against on the basis of race when his employer “attempted to indoctrinate me with the views and theories on race that they believe I should subscribe to as a person of color,” and on the basis of religion when he was threatened with termination for his traditional views.

Although never fired, Norgren says he was “constructively discharged when DHS created a hostile workplace environment by attempting to impose its own ideologies upon me.”

His son, who shares his father’s views, claims that he continues to face discrimination in the workplace because of his father’s defiance. Like his dad, the junior Norgren works at the Minnesota Security Hospital and was required to participate in workplace training programs, including the training on “How to be Anti-Racist.”

“This training focused on cultural competence and how to be ‘anti-racist,’ specifically centering on the teachings of Ibram X. Kendi and included a full minute of silence for the death of George Floyd. During this training, we were instructed to stop using ‘I am not a racist’ or ‘I can’t be racist’ as a defense or denial,” Norgren writes.

When discussing the legal actions this week, Seaton said CRT leaders like Kendi are clear about their intention to discriminate.

“The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” Kendi writes in one of his bestsellers.

Norgren believes that “these critical race theory ideas of race separation, division, incitement of hate for whites, Christians and traditionalists, and demeaning of blacks and other minorities as unable to act or succeed in America should not be promoted at a state agency or anywhere else.”

Lakeville Area Schools

The third case involves Lakeville taxpayers Bob and Cynthia Cajune and Kalynn Wendt, who is suing on behalf of her daughter Novalee, a student in the district whose speeches against critical race theory at her local school board meetings have gone viral.

According to the lawsuit, the school district launched an “Inclusive Poster Series” in April that included displays with the “Black Lives Matter” slogan.

“At Lakeville Area Schools, we believe Black Lives Matter and stand with the social justice movement this statement represents. This poster is aligned to School Board policy and an unwavering commitment to our Black students, staff and community members,” read a caption underneath the posters.

District taxpayers like the Cajunes reportedly asked for alternative ideological viewpoints to be presented alongside the posters. They were told that the district “does not approve of All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter posters in the classrooms or other areas of the school, and teachers/school staff are not allowed to wear shirts with these sayings to school.”

The district further claimed that “the All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter mottos were created specifically in opposition to Black Lives Matter.”

Nine-year-old Novalee called out the school board last month for violating its own policies on political messages in the classroom by displaying the posters.

Seaton said the district’s behavior has created a “hostile education environment” and amounts to “viewpoint discrimination.”

“Black Lives Matter, of course, but so do all other human lives. Posting ‘BLM’ signs and disallowing ‘All Lives Matter’ signs is political speech or viewpoint discrimination,” Mr. Cajune said in a statement. “Discriminating against or demeaning any race is not neutral and is wrong.”