Running a school is no walk in the park — a lesson Kanye West is learning the hard way.
Former Donda Academy teachers Cecilia Hailey and her daughter, Chekarey Byers, are suing West (now known as Ye) and his Simi Valley private school for wrongful termination, discrimination and unlawful withholding of wages, among other allegations, according to a complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday (April 5).
According to a press release put out by the plaintiffs’ law firm, West Coast Employment Lawyers, the Christian school allegedly “violated education, health and safety codes, terminated educators based on race and retaliation, and failed to fully pay teachers.” Donda Academy directors Brianne Campbell, Allison Tidwell and Chris Julian are also named as defendants.
The complaint, obtained by Billboard and filed by attorneys Ronald L. Zambrano and Melineh Jingozian, claims the pre-K through 12th-grade school boasted a number of unusual rules and restrictions, allegedly demanded by West. They include not allowing common items such as crossword puzzles, coloring sheets, eating utensils, colorful clothing, dinnerware, jewelry, chairs and Nike or Adidas branded clothing. Students were also allegedly not allowed on the second floor of the school because West was “reportedly afraid of stairs” and also not allowed outside, instead forced to spend their lunch/recess time indoors.
The complaint further alleges that the only meal available to students was sushi and that they were not allowed to bring food from home. Byers and Hailey additionally accuse the school of turning a blind eye to “severe bullying,” including physical violence.
In the complaint, Hailey and Byers are identified as the only female African-American teachers at the school — something they say led to stereotyping and coded language from Donda Academy administrators. “I’m just tired of the rhetoric being that Black women who are competent are seen as aggressive,” Hailey said in a statement.
The complaint goes on to state that when Hailey expressed interest in reaching out to West, she was told not to. Both teachers also claim that their paychecks were “untimely or inaccurate,” with some never arriving and others reportedly short by up to $2,700.
“No action was taken to remedy plaintiffs’ complaints regarding sanitation, health, safety or education standard pursuant to local and state law, which plaintiffs made throughout the entirety of their employment,” the complaint reads. Hailey and Byers were ultimately terminated from the school in March, allegedly without explanation.
Hailey and Byers are asking for damages including unpaid wages, loss of earnings, deferred compensation and other employment benefits; general damages, including for “emotional distress”; other special damages, including “reasonable medical expenses”; punitive damages; prejudgment interest on lost wages and benefits; and costs of bringing the suit.
“We’re standing up because it’s the right thing to do,” Hailey continued in her statement. “This is not about trying to defame a celebrity. This is about the right thing to do for these children.”
“While his vision for the school sounds great on paper, it’s just pure chaos and mutiny,” Byers added.
Representatives for West and Donda Academy did not immediately respond to Billboard‘s requests for comment.
Donda Academy — named after West’s late mother, Donda West — was founded last year. In October, there were reports of the school shutting down, but it is now accepting applications for the 2023-24 school year.