LOS ANGELES – A split panel of a federal court of appeals erred when it upheld a ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed against a principal who threatened to call immigration officials on a parent, according to civil rights attorneys.

Attorneys with MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) are seeking en banc review by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to ensure that immigrant parents are protected as the law and Constitution envision.

“Every child has the right to have their parents involved in their education without threat of retaliation by a principal,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “The threat here – being reported to ICE — was plainly motivated by immigration status, but the panel majority, incredibly, ruled that that was not the case, as a matter of law.”

The case involves a 2017 lawsuit filed by MALDEF on behalf of an immigrant parent who said a former principal of Madison Elementary School in Pasadena, California attempted to intimidate her by threatening to call federal immigration authorities after she complained about a school lunch policy.

MALDEF argued that the principal’s threats violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the First Amendment. The Pasadena Unified School District was also named in the suit because it failed to launch an investigation into the formal complaint it received about the incident, and did nothing after another employee repeated a threat during a school board meeting.

A district court judge dismissed the suit, and last month, a split three-judge panel upheld the district court’s decision. The panel majority held that the principal did not make the threat because of the immigrant mother’s status, and that parents do not have a clearly established right to be free from threats by school principals.

“Ignoring multiple federal agencies’ recognition that immigration enforcement is inappropriate in sensitive school environments, the panel majority ruling effectively green lights school officials’ discrimination against immigrant children and their parents,” said Juan Rodriguez, a MALDEF staff attorney.

MALDEF said the full review is necessary because the panel’s decision “puts millions of immigrant parents throughout the states of the Ninth Circuit at risk of facing severe threats by school officials, who would, under the majority’s ruling, face no consequence for such threats.” Additionally, the brief challenges the panel’s ruling that school officials enjoy qualified immunity even though the issue was never briefed before the district court.

Read the brief HERE.