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Fired Kingsland librarian files wrongful termination complaint

Kingsland (Texas) Branch Library

Kingsland Branch Library, 125 W. Polk St., is one of three libraries in Llano County at the center of a federal lawsuit over claims of censorship. The former head librarian, Suzette Baker, filed a wrongful termination complaint against the county on Sept. 16. She was fired in March. Photo from Kingsland Library Facebook page

Fired Kingsland librarian Suzette Baker filed a wrongful termination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Assisted by civil rights attorney Iris Halperin of Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC in Denver, Baker filed her complaint on Sept. 16. She was fired from the Kingsland Branch Library on March 9

The causes for termination were listed as insubordination and failure to follow instructions, Baker told at the time. The actions cited for her firing include refusing to take down a Banned Books Week display last fall. 

Llano County Library Director Amber Milum canceled Banned Books Week programs at the county’s three libraries because of a growing controversy over certain books available for checkout. This was before county commissioners disbanded the old library advisory board and formed a new one in January. It was also before a lawsuit charging the county with censorship was filed in federal district court on April 25

Baker was also cited for attending meetings of the newly formed Llano County Library Advisory Board, one of which was held in the Kingsland branch where she was head librarian. That was before the board meetings were closed to the public this past spring.

Baker received a written warning on Feb. 9 for insubordination after attending the first two board meetings. On Feb. 16, all librarians received an email from Milum, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, stating that staff members are not allowed to attend the board meetings, even if they use “vacation time.”

Although Baker’s name was not mentioned during a two-day hearing on a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit on Oct. 28 and 31, instructions to librarians not to attend the board meetings did come up in testimony. The hearing was in U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s federal courtroom in Austin. If granted, the injunction would return 12 books to library shelves and list them in the online catalog, require a review of further removals, and open library advisory board meetings to the public until after the trial, which is set for Oct. 23, 2023.

“We were told not to attend,” former Llano head librarian Martina Castelan said under oath. “Amber (Milum) told us. We were never allowed to attend.”

Castelan quit her job on Sept. 18 after Milum walked out of a staff meeting when given a written list of complaints signed by the remaining six library staff members. A year before, the system had 12 employees.

Milum testified that the vacation directive came from Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham.

“He said to tell them it was not in their job description,” she said, referring to attending the board meetings. “That’s what I told them.”

“Did you tell them anything else they couldn’t do on their vacation time,” asked the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ellen Leonide of BraunHagey & Borden LLP.

“I don’t know,” Milum replied.

She also testified that Cunningham told her to send new purchase lists to the library advisory board for approval. Until then, the library director always had the final say on what books to buy. Milum sent one list to the board but never heard back. 

When asked on the stand about that directive, Cunningham said the library was not buying new books and the advisory board was not meeting again until the lawsuit was settled. 

Baker attended the second of the two days of testimony in the hearing in the case of Little et. al. v. Llano County et. al. She was unable to attend the first day because she was keynote speaker at a New Mexico Library Association conference. She spoke on her experience with the Llano County Library System and the current lawsuit. 

Baker is not involved in the lawsuit but is certainly interested in its outcome. Nothing will be decided in her wrongful termination complaint until after the case is settled. She is currently employed in the office at a Kingsland plumbing business. 

When asked about her goal in filing the complaint, Baker was quick with an answer.

“To put the books back on the shelves where they belong,” she said. “To make the library free again.” 

Currently, both plaintiffs and defendants await word from Judge Pitman on the injunction and a motion to dismiss the case filed by Llano County’s defense attorney, Jonathan F. Mitchell of Mitchell Law LLC in Austin.