Hartford Teacher Disciplined for Views on DEI
Training Sues School District

Veteran teacher alleges school district officials retaliated against him for objecting to “privilege” training, violating his First Amendment rights

January 4, 2024, Hartford, CT.—In a federal lawsuit, teacher John Grande alleges that Hartford school officials violated his First Amendment rights by fabricating evidence against him, disciplining him, forcing him to undergo “sensitivity” training, and threatening to fire him—all for voicing a skeptical opinion when asked to share his thoughts about a mandatory “privilege” training.

“I was targeted for punishment by school district administrators because I refused to endorse their agenda to push critical race theory on teachers,” said Grande, who has taught physical education in Hartford schools for 35 years. “They launched a witch hunt against me and ran a kangaroo court to convict me for exercising my free speech rights. They threatened my career to silence me, but with this lawsuit, I’m leveling the playing field and forcing school officials to answer for trampling my rights.”

Grande is asking the court to declare the school district officials’ behavior unconstitutional under the First Amendment, to rescind a disciplinary letter from his employee file, and to award him compensatory and punitive damages.

This past summer, Grande won an unfair labor practice charge against a teachers’ union, the Hartford Federation of Teachers (HFT), which refused to take a related grievance to arbitration because he was not a union member. Connecticut’s labor board determined that the union, which Grande believes supported the “privilege” training, illegally discriminated against him based on his membership status. The decision strengthened the right to fair representation for all Connecticut public employees.


In 2020, the Hartford Public Schools held a mandatory professional development training titled “Identity & Privilege” via Zoom. The training asked questions that in Grande’s view targeted him as a straight, white, Christian male. Grande claims that training was a part of the superintendent’s goal to push critical race theory in district schools.

Post-training, teachers were separated into breakout rooms for discussion. When asked his opinion on the training, John replied: “I was just man-bashed and white-shamed. I’m gonna sit here quietly.” At the time, no other participant reacted negatively to Grande’s response. Grande was later assigned a survey, which he responded to by questioning the relevance of the training and stating his belief that it was “part of the Superintendent’s agenda to advance her career.”

School officials launch retaliatory investigation and fabricate evidence

Months later, Grande learned that he was under investigation and that an administrator had sent an email to all participants of Grande’s breakout room, except him, calling his comments “inappropriate and aggressive” and accusing him of creating “an unsafe and hostile environment” for other teachers.

According to the complaint, the investigation included:

  • a statement drafted by an administrator that she attributed to Grande but which he had not attested to;
  • accusations from two of seven breakout room participants which were similar in content but different from the recollections of others; and
  • Grande’s survey response he alleges was altered to include language he had not submitted.

Grande alleges that the administrator, at the behest of the superintendent, coached two of his colleagues to cast him in a negative light and altered his survey response. Indeed, screenshots show part of the survey response appears in a different font and color than the rest.

School officials discipline teacher, threaten termination

In October 2021, the school board conducted a pre-disciplinary hearing based on this fabricated evidence. The board ignored its employee handbook, which cites the First Amendment to support a guarantee that, “No employee of the Hartford Public Schools will be subject of disciplinary action or retaliatory action of any kind as a result of the exercise of his or her free speech rights.”

The board then issued Grande a letter of reprimand for “inappropriate and unprofessional” conduct —the first such discipline he received in his more than three-decade career.

Teacher files federal lawsuit filed to protect free speech rights

With the help of the Fairness Center, Grande filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against the school board and administrators because, according to the complaint:

“[T]he Defendants have unabashedly violated Mr. Grande’s rights in several respects, by mandating him to hold or develop certain beliefs and opinions, retaliating against and punishing him when he expresses contrary beliefs and opinions, and threatening him with further discipline and loss of employment should he not hold certain beliefs and opinions or speak out against them in any manner.”

Grande and Fairness Center attorneys are available for comment. Please contact Anna Kertland at media@fairnesscenter.org or 844.293.1001 to schedule an interview.


The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.