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Billy McKinney files a federal lawsuit against St. Helens School District, alleging years of racially biased encounters

McKinneyBilly McKinney, a former instructional assistant and basketball coach for the St. Helens School District, filed a race discrimination lawsuit against his former employer in federal district court on Friday, Aug. 3.

The core of the lawsuit alleges McKinney experienced multiple instances of racially based discrimination during his employment in St. Helens between 2011 and 2017, including name-calling, complaints from a district employee regarding African American coaches in St. Helens, social media attacks, and overheard slurs from a student directed at African American students at the high school.

The lawsuit also asserts that the high school athletic director kept a file of information about McKinney, accused him of stealing, and referred to McKinney as "boy" repeatedly.

McKinney was hired in 2011 as a special education instructor at the middle school and was eventually moved to an instructional aide position at the high school. He was also hired to lead the high school's varsity girls' basketball team.

In early 2017, McKinney came under some public scrutiny when several athletes quit the team, alleging McKinney's coaching style was verbally abusive. School officials said the complaints would be investigated and, in May 2017, McKinney was released from the coaching position. He left the St. Helens School District by the start of the 2017-18 school year to take a teaching job in Washington.

McKinney is seeking more than $700,000 in damages, including $35,000 in economic damages, $600,000 in noneconomic damages for emotional pain and suffering, and $100,000 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Court documents indicate McKinney filed a tort notice with the district in September and was issued a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May after filing his complaint.

The St. Helens School District did not respond to a request for comment by press time. The district generally does not comment on ongoing litigation or personnel matters.

McKinney is represented by Kevin Brague, a Portland-based lawyer with the Brague Law Firm. Brague is also currently serving as the legal representative for a former Scappoose School District teacher who filed a discrimination suit against the district in circuit court earlier this year.

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