A woman is suing her former high school in Minnesota for a homecoming event that she claims was racially offensive and illegal.
She said fellow students wore stereotypical low-slung pants, oversized sports jerseys, baseball hats tilted to the side and "doo rags" on their heads on a day designated as "Wigger Day."
Quera Pruitt, 19, said that her former high school, Red Wing High School in Red Wing, Minn., allowed students to dress in racially discriminative ways in 2008 and 2009 during "Dress Up Days" leading up to homecoming.
One of the dress-up days was supposed to be "Tropical Day," but Pruitt said students instead designated it "Wigger Day" and added that the school's administration was aware of the designation.
The class action lawsuit filed on July 29 defined the term "wigger" as "a pejorative slang term for a white person who emulates the mannerisms, language and fashions associated with African-American culture."
"This is blackface for the 21st century," said Pruitt's attorney, Joshua Williams. "The school and the district failed to do anything to address the conduct, remediate the conduct or even talk about it in a meaningful way. They turned a blind eye and were woefully indifferent."
The lawsuit stated that some students even displayed gang signs.
Williams said the school did not punish the students, contact parents or provide counseling for offended students. Instead, he said, students were simply told to go home and change their clothes.
Williams and his client have chosen to pursue a class action suit on behalf of other students who may have been offended, regardless of their race. The lawsuit estimates at least 40 other students could fall into that category.
The school district denied the allegations.
"Independent School District #256, Red Wing, Minnesota has been and continues to be committed to providing an education to its students that is free from discrimination and harassment based upon race or otherwise," said Superintendent Karsten Anderson in a statement. "The district denies the allegations that it has created a racially hostile environment and looks forward to meeting these allegations in court."
Williams said his client suffered a great deal of emotional distress from the experience and that she felt continually discriminated against.
The lawsuit said Pruitt "suffered severe and extreme emotional distress including depression, loss of sleep, stress, crying, humiliation, anxiety, and shame."
Williams said that Pruitt's distress forced her to quit school activities such as track, cheerleading and student council. Pruitt also chose not to participate in her schools' Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day celebration because she felt it was a "farce," and she did not attend her senior prom.
"Her mom had to rouse her from bed every morning and coax her out of bed to go to school," Williams said of the teen, who, he said, even considered dropping out.
Pruitt and her mother moved to Minnesota from Arkansas before Pruitt's junior year of high school. She moved back to Arkansas immediately after graduation and, Williams said, it has been a tough year for her.
"I talked to her mom last night and she said that Quera is just now starting to get back to normal to the old Quera," Williams said.
Pruitt recently enrolled at an Arkansas community college.
The lawsuit was filed against Anderson, school principal Beth Brogan, the Red Wing Public Schools and "John and Jane Does" representing the school administration. It includes six charges: hostile environment, race discrimination, violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, aiding and abetting violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and negligence.
"Teenagers do not always understand the profound impact that bigotry and bullying has on its victims," the lawsuit began. "But adults should."
"We're hoping to hold the school district accountable and hoping that other schools will take notice that they have a duty to provide an educational atmosphere free from racial discrimination," Williams said.
The lawsuit is requesting an amount greater than $75,000 for damages and litigation expenses. Williams said it could take up to a year for a Pruitt to get a court date.