Ashley Bush | File

Former Frederick High School girls basketball coach Ashley Bush was fired in January 2020 after a string of controversies. She is shown here in 2017.

A former Frederick High School girls basketball coach who led her squad to three consecutive state titles is suing the school system in federal court, alleging racial discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation.

Ashley Bush has filed a lawsuit against Frederick County Public Schools seeking more than $500,000 in damages from a district she alleges was “strategically focused on ousting” her, according to court documents.

Bush and FCPS couldn’t come to an agreement at a settlement hearing last month, according to Bush’s lawyer, Dionna Lewis. The case, originally filed in May, is in the discovery period — during which parties exchange information they intend to use at trial — until January.

Bush, who was fired from her coaching position in February 2020, has demanded a jury trial.

In her complaint, Bush accuses FCPS of fostering an environment where racism against her and her players — most of whom were Black — was left unchecked. She argues the system retaliated against her for her efforts to speak out against prejudicial treatment, ultimately resulting in her termination.

FCPS spokesperson Eric Louérs-Phillips said the district was aware of the lawsuit, but he declined to speak on the matter. Lawyers representing the system did not respond to requests for comment.

In court documents, FCPS has denied liability on all counts. Lawyers for the district wrote Bush was terminated due to a recording supposedly captured during a team meeting in which they say she can be heard saying “f--- white people.”

Bush, though, maintains the district doesn’t have proof it was her voice on the recording.

A former Frederick basketball star herself, Bush was named head coach of the Cadets in May 2015. She led the team to 120 total wins and to state titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — the three-peat being something no basketball team in the county had pulled off before.

In her 34-page complaint, Bush recounts events spanning a period of more than two years, beginning with a game versus Linganore in 2018 that caused community turmoil at the time. Bush, her lawyer said, is attempting to show FCPS had a pattern of downplaying racism against Frederick players and focusing instead on penalizing Bush for her attempts to protect them.

At the Frederick-Linganore varsity girls basketball game in January 2018, Bush alleges, “spectators, parents of students, and coaching staff of Linganore High School began chanting obscene and racial comments” toward Bush’s players. Bush sought assistance from the on-duty resource officer, according to the complaint, but “she was told that nothing could be done.”

“At one point, [Bush] had to assist a player with putting her goggles back on because she was shaking out of discomfort and nervousness of the environment,” the complaint reads.

When the allegations of racial abuse at the game surfaced back in 2018, FCPS said they would investigate. Community members showed up to support the Cadets at subsequent games with signs that read “Hate has no home here.”

The next game between Frederick and Linganore was moved to a neutral location and closed to spectators. FCPS proposed playing a sportsmanship announcement before athletic contests and installing cameras in all high schools, according to the complaint — things Bush saw as “futile bandages that the [district] hopes will be perceived as actual change.”

The complaint also alleges FCPS sent crisis counselors to Linganore “to assist the student perpetrators who felt victimized” but didn’t send any to assist the Frederick players who had been targeted.

Bush argues this incident was the beginning of a decline in her relationship with FCPS officials. She describes multiple meetings where she was allegedly reprimanded for her conduct at the game and hit with “an egregious and baseless accusation that she punched the Linganore head coach.”

Over the next year or so, Bush alleges, that dynamic continued, with Bush being “the only Coach facing this type of scrutiny, pressure, threats” over a handful of incidents.

“[Bush] was regularly dismissed or reprimanded whenever she addressed or questioned racially insensitive behavior that occurred on school grounds, while White male employees were taken seriously regarding their complaints,” the document reads.

In early February 2020, five of Bush’s players resigned from the team, prompting the district to investigate.

On Feb. 6, 2020, officials informed Bush she had been accused of emotionally abusing multiple players and physically abusing one player, her complaint reads. Six days later, on Feb. 12, she alleges FCPS told her the investigation was over, and “they had found no substantiation to the abuse allegations.” She was permitted to continue coaching.

But the next day, Feb. 13, a Facebook user posted an audio recording in which an adult woman can be heard using racist language.

“How can I use sports to make you guys so damn strong that we can get to the point of — and I apologize for saying it, but — f--- white people,” the woman says in the recording, which was obtained by the News-Post. “That’s where I’m at. Especially with how society is. And so I think, sometimes, I go overboard.”

According to court filings from FCPS, Bush admitted the recording — which was allegedly captured at a Cadets team meeting shortly before the recording was posted — sounded like her voice but said she did not remember saying those words.

At the team meeting in question, Bush writes in her complaint, she “shared her own personal experiences with the sport in order to be more relatable and understanding to the players as an African American woman coaching a mostly African American team.” Some of these experiences included her “anecdotes of [her] first-hand knowledge and familiarity with discrimination within the support and educational system.”

Bush was fired a few days after the recording was posted to Facebook.

FCPS argued in court documents the recording was the reason for Bush’s termination, saying the vulgar phrase violated the district’s hate speech policies. The district accused Bush of failing in the “all-important duty of teaching [her] team responsibility, good character and accountability.”

“She denies that it is her voice on the recording, blames everyone but herself for her termination, and now brings a series of baseless claims against FCPS,” lawyers for the district wrote.

Bush, meanwhile, alleges FCPS didn’t properly authenticate the audio recording or investigate its origins, and that its decision to terminate her was “directly related to [her] pushback of prejudicial policies that disparately impact African Americans.”

Since Bush’s filing, the two sides have sparred over a number of legal questions, including whether Bush — as an at-will employee — had an implied employment contract. In July, a judge struck down FCPS’ motion to dismiss four of the nine counts in Bush’s case.

One of the counts FCPS attempted to dismiss was an alleged violation of Maryland’s wiretap statute. Bush argued in court filings that even if it was her voice on the recording, the file was obtained illegally because she didn’t give consent to be recorded as required by state law.

The district maintained that Bush “did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy during her team meeting in a public high school.”

Though the coaching position paid just $4,338 for the 2020 season, Lewis said Bush is seeking at least $500,000 in damages because of emotional and financial distress related to the termination. It damaged her reputation in the coaching field, Lewis told the News-Post, and severed her bonds with her players.

Discovery in the case is set to end Jan. 11.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

(55) comments

HollywoodXpress

I've been coaching in the County for many years and I can tell you from experience that FCPS does not handle racial incidents well. They definitely sweep things under the rug. They will not be satisfied until one of these kids take matters into their own hands. There were several incidents in fall sports this year and FCPS didn't do a good job in addressing any of them.

Blueline

If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the facts are against you, argue the law. If both the law and facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell. - Carl Sandburg.

C.D.Reid

Another disgruntled government employee trying to cash in by throwing the racism card. Give her $5.00 and tell her to update her resume.

marinick1

[thumbup][thumbup] C.D. Reid. [thumbup]

TrekMan

👍👍

mrnatural1

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that all of the girls on that team had heard the "F-word" multiple times before. So even IF Ms. Bush did use that particular word, none of them were scarred for life.

Of course, this wasn't a simple case of Ms. Bush reacting to a mistake or a bad call by reflexively saying "F*#k!" If that were the situation, termination would clearly be uncalled for, an extreme consequence.

Her entire statement is more problematic. If the story involved a white coach saying, "F*#k black people" to white student athletes, I think most people would agree that termination (or at least a long unpaid suspension and racial sensitivity training) would be appropriate.

So the questions are:

1) Is Ms. Bush the person speaking in the recording? If not, it seems she has a good case.

2) If it is her speaking, then can a case be made that she should have been treated less harshly than a white coach in the reverse circumstance?

I think the answer is a qualified yes. If a person punches someone for no reason, they can be charged with battery. However, if it is self-defense, that is viewed differently. Even if they are repeatedly harassed and provoked and finally punch their tormentor, that might be seen as at least understandable, if not justified. In the same way, depending on the circumstances, a person saying, "F*#k white people", could be an understandable reaction to repeated mistreatment, discrimination, abuse, etc.

Of course, without knowing what may have occurred prior to and immediately before Ms. Bush allegedly making that statement, we don't know whether there were 'mitigating circumstances'.

sdm817

Could you imagine if there was a recording of a white coach say "f@#k black people" and then having the nerve to sue ? Wow.

threecents

True, but the difference tends to be that white people are in the majority and as such have much more power to discriminate.

Awteam2021

Coaches don’t use profanity in youth sports. Or, they all would be fired. 🤦‍♂️

phydeaux994

It may be that her comment, if it is her, was the result of the way she and her team were treated by White people, at Linganore and throughout their lives. I’m pretty sure that she’s not the only Black person to feel that way. But of course, White people deny that minorities are treated badly. It’s been that way for 400 years.

C.D.Reid

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. Your standard excuse for the failures they continue to impose on themselves. [yawn] Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..........................

phydeaux994

As you do when a White person kills their Mother or their Wife. But let a Black lady tired of being discriminated against use the “F” word, which you do regularly, because she’s mad at White people she gets fired. You don’t get it Mr. Reid. People of all races say and do inappropriate things all the time, especially you, not just Black people. You’re a Racist, you hate Black people so every little thing they do you go full attack. Do the same for White people.

C.D.Reid

Yeah, yeah, yeah, fido. Racist, racist, racist. We know. [yawn] Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.........................

TrekMan

Did it ever occur to anyone that some of this stuff African American folks are going through like this scenario is brought on by themselves and their behavior? Hmmm. Just a thought! Accountability is on both sides of the fence.

MD1756

[rolleyes]

C.D.Reid

Good point, TrekMan, but try explaining it to fido. His explanation for all the woes of the black population is "White man bad."

MD1756

[rolleyes]

Plumbum

Can you imagine if Trump accepted his loss, and didn’t have the nerve to sure? wow.

Jdbgalt

Deny everything, admit nothing and make counter accusations! FCPS must be racist, what other possible reason could there be for firing a black woman? She's a victim...of course! Please!

Plumbum

You missed the part about no proof who the voice was from

Awteam2021

Jdbgalt, Are you asking what was the reason? I like to know too. Do you know?

Jdbgalt

What I'm saying is, all too often when a minority employee is dismissed or otherwise fired for cause, people, alas, many people, immediately and prematurely cry foul and/or racism. After all, racist come in all forms and in all colors--they're not just fat, dumb, uneducated, Appalachian mountain while people. Indeed, in this world there are many good and a few bad people people. And the bad ones come in all colors, shapes, sizes and from all socioeconomic groups. To think that a black (or brown, or yellow, or purple or any other color) person can never be fired without the far-left, virtue-singling, woke crowd screaming, from up on high, their repugnance about such a dismissal is indeed disturbing! We are all accountable for our actions--even minorities.

mrnatural1

Good comment Jdb.

I had a coworker at Metro who was from Yemen. He was *convinced* that people didn't like him because of his nationality and/or appearance (brown skin, dark curly hair). The truth was that he was an insufferable jerk. Apparently he was some sort of prince in Yemen, and expected to be treated in the manner he as accustomed to. He was also one of just a handful of technicians in my dept with an engineering degree, which he constantly reminded people of. He spoke to people in a superior, condescending manner. In addition, employees who had been to his house said he treated his wife like she was a servant/slave girl.

So while it was true that he was not well liked, it had nothing to do with his home country or his appearance. Jerks come in all colors and ethnicities.

It is tempting for all people to attribute and poor treatment to bigotry related to their appearance, gender, race, etc. That's often the case, but sometimes it's not.

MD1756

In other words mrnatural, it had a lot to do with his culture and his belief of how other people should be treated since, apparently in his mind, they were inferior to him.

TrekMan

👍👍👍

Awteam2021

I don’t know… a former Frederick basketball star, then starred at Seton Hall University in the NCAA Big East College Conference, a committed volunteer to youth sports. Led the Frederick High Cadets to 120 total wins and to state titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — the three-peat being something no basketball team in the county had pulled off ever. Then suddenly accusations of abusing her players which were found false. But there’s some reason to dismiss her. She wouldn’t look the other way or tolerate the racial harassment of her players any more? Or was she just winning to much against teams with majority white players in Frederick County? Curious 🧐.

threecents

Suddenly a lot of her players quit the team. Do you know why? It was a personnel decision to fire her, so the school system did not comment. As I recall she also had a physical altercation with another coach.

Plumbum

She has a pretty good chance at prevailing against the school system.

1) She’s right, it’s not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s her voice. This is huge.

2) Maryland’s wire tapping laws are very loosely written. In which, I mean, a court very well could agree with her. The wire tapping laws in MD are vague, and when I last checked in 2016 there wasn’t any case law on wire tapping.

Keep in mind, the school system already sat down and tried to work out a settlement. They would not have done this had they not realized “hey, she’s got us by the ba—s”.

MD1756

If the recording was made during a public event (practice, game, etc.) I doubt that any wiretapping laws apply as no communication was "intercepted." From the conversation, it sounds like she was talking to the players she coaches.

As far as settlement is concerned, companies and organizes settle all the time because it can be cheaper and they are not admitting guilt.

Plumbum

M2 you are not correct. News story makes no mention as to where on the property or where in the building the recording took place. That is important with wire tapping claims.

The biggest thing is the school board isn’t able to show the court that the voice is hers. For all we know, the recording was staged.

Furthermore, for as long as you’ve been one of my top faithful followers, you know very well that I don’t need lectured on civil settlements happening out of court. Why do people online feel they must always try to inform / school others?

C.D.Reid

Why do people online feel they must always try to inform / school others, Pb? You tell us; why do you feel you must always try to "inform / school others?" Because you do it here far more than anyone else. So, why do you?

threecents

CD, Why do you use Joe Biden as an avatar if you don't like Joe Biden?

MD1756

Pb, I'm not incorrect because of the first word used in my comment. Try reading a little more carefully. And personally I think you're a hypocrite and blow hard so I usually feel the need not to educate you, but to let others know how far off your comments tend to be. You don't know why the school system entertained settlement discussions yet you seemed to have taken it as an admission of guilt. However, you are right in that I should stop commenting on people's comments that are really stupid and or wrong and just use an [rolleyes]. So to your comment I say [rolleyes]

Plumbum

M2 - I drafted and posted. Comment based on the facts presented in the news story. Personal feelings - I don’t care about.

MD1756

I don't know who M2 is but with your 4:11pm comment I assume you're referring to me and to that I say [rolleyes].

C.D.Reid

I use the thumbs up picture of him with the "Let's go Brandon" slogan to ridicule him, threecents. Knowing how I feel about that assh_le, are you telling me that you really couldn't figure that out for yourself? Seriously? I suggest you copy and paste this answer into a word document and save it in your computer for future reference, because I'm not going to explain it to you again.

C.D.Reid

MD1756, to Plumbum you're M2, but only in her own little, kiddie, play/fantasy world.

MD1756

[rolleyes]

TrekMan

Sorry Plum, not quite right. A settlement is usually done to the issue from going public for some reason or another. That most likely gave her the greed bug as did her lawyer therefore the .5 mill suit. Also the statement she made about white people was done in public so wire tap laws have no relevance in this case.

artandarchitecture

This is just more evidence of how the push for greater multi-culturalism has failed American society (both individuals & groups, across the entire board.)

Would this even be an issue if VOLUNTARY self-segregation was *allowed*?

The super-wealthy currently in charge would like to see the rest of our country completely destroyed w/ nonstop ethnic/racial, religious, & political quarrels. *Unity* is strength:

"The Downside of Diversity" by Michael Jones/Boston Globe

http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/the_downside_of_diversity/?page=full

shiftless88

What are you talking about, Artie? Take your meds, please.

threecents

Artie is talking about going back to the good old days of black and white water fountains...

threecents

Here's an article that might interest you. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazel_Massery

C.D.Reid

Wikipedia? [lol][lol][lol][lol][lol][lol][lol]

BlueSky2020

Ashley Bush is an extremely capable person with a passion to support and guide her players. FCPS has some bad actors in the system. There should be a in-depth investigation to find the truth.

Blueline

It should be fairly easy. Hire an audio analyst, and if it's her voice, she's gone. If it isn't her, the suit can go forward.

MD1756

If her players were mostly Black and that doesn't fit the profile of the school's demographics (24.5% Black based on 2018-2019 data), is she guilty of racism if she has the authority to determine who plays on the team or not? What has been done to recruit a diverse team?

Awteam2021

Actually, Frederick High School is the most diverse high school in Frederick County, 70% other than ‘White’. Asian 8%, African American 27%, Hispanic 29%, White 30%, with 6% declaring two or more races. The total minority enrollment is 70%. There were players other than African American on those teams. The 2019 championship team had one Asian American, one of Hispanic dissent and three ‘White’ players. What’s the diversity of the Linganore girls basketball team?

threecents

MD, Do you think that is evidence she discriminated against students who wanted to be on the team? Not sure what point you are trying to make.

C.D.Reid

Aw, do you think high school basketball team members should be picked according to their race/ethnic background, or for their skills in the game? Case in point: Heels Up Harris was picked as Biden's running mate solely for her sex and ethnic background, do you think that she's shown she is qualified for the office of vice president since she took over the job? And I think you were looking for Hispanic "descent," not "dissent."

public-redux

“ Harris was picked as Biden's running mate solely for her sex and ethnic background,”

I’m curious why you are so dismissive of VP Harris’s fundraising abilities as a factor in her selection.

C.D.Reid

You're right, public, and I'm sorry. I forgot how critical "fundraising abilities" are to being qualified for the office of Vice President of the United States of America.

MD1756

Aweteam it is certainly not diverse compared to the world population, it is not even diverse compare to the US population. It is different than both but that doesn't make it diverse. Asians probably make up the greatest percentage of the world population followed by Causasians, then Blacks. Hispanics as a culture (not a race) makes up only about 6.5% of the world's population. So how is Frederick High school diverse?

I have no idea what the make up of Linganore is nor do I care. If it doesn't match (or come close to) the world population percentages, then it is not diverse because some are over represented while others are under represented. I am not a champion of diversity (except maybe environmental). Diversity or lack thereof is neither good nor bad, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. If you're building a rocket and don't want it to fail, you'll probably have a preference for engineers with rocket experience on the design team and not so many English or Phys Ed majors. You won't have diversity but you'll have a better chance of a good rocket design.

MD1756

threecents, the point is she claims discrimination and yet the data suggests that maybe she is guilty of discrimination herself. Sports in general seems to be guilty of discrimination when the teams don't mirror the population they represent. People question why there aren't more minorities in certain professions, well they should question it here too, but in this case there is an overabundance of minorities. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

threecents

She was an amazing coach, and what Linganore fans did was beyond inexcusable, but I don't think she has a case against FCPS.

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