Bullard football coach denies racist slur, files defamation suit against FUSD trustee

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno Unified school board member who denounced racist behavior at Bullard High School is now accused of taking claims of racism too far.

The Bullard football coach filed a legal claim against the school district, complaining that trustee Keshia Thomas defamed him by accusing him of using a racial slur.

Edison High School students marched to Bullard last month to call out the racism of a photo posted to social media of a student in the Bullard weight room wearing a hood in the style of the KKK.

RELATED: Fresno Unified investigating controversial picture taken at Bullard High

Edison school board trustee Keshia Thomas walked with them.

She's the only African-American on the board and she later said one of her own sons experienced racism at Bullard when football coaches used the N-word during practice.

Coach Don Arax has been at odds with Thomas and he seized on the accusation, saying he didn't address her son or anyone else with the racist slur.

He filed a government claim with Fresno Unified, accusing Thomas of knowingly spreading a lie.

"She's going to have to show he made a statement using the N-word against her son or against other people," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi because the truth is a defense in a defamation claim.

Arax's claim says Thomas' son was never at Bullard, so that's evidence she knew it was a lie.

She tells me he heard the slur during summer training for incoming freshmen and decided not to go to Bullard.

"Although I am saddened by Coach Arax filing a complaint against me, I certainly welcome the investigation into my comments," Thomas said. "I feel confident that after a thorough review that his claim will be found to be baseless and without any merit."

Arax's claim says he reported another of Thomas' sons for inappropriate conduct in a school hallway.

And he says he wasn't in the weight room when students took the racist photo.

Capozzi says Arax would also need to prove Thomas was representing the district when she made the comments.

And he'd have to prove damages. He's claiming more than $10,000.

"Has Mr. Arax been fired?" Capozzi said. "Has he been disciplined in any way? Has he been transferred out of his job? Has his reputation been demeaned or lessened because of these comments?"

The superintendent has recommended the board deny Arax's claim when they meet Wednesday evening.

If they do, Arax can then file a civil lawsuit.
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