Federal Jury Decides That Prince George’s County Public Schools Can Be Held Liable Under Title VI For Race Discrimination and Retaliation.

Jon Everhart will have his day in court.

On February 28, 2014, a federal jury, at the Greenbelt, MD federal courthouse, issued a verdict that means Prince George’s County Public Schools can be found liable under Title VI for race discrimination and retaliation.  Specifically, the jury decided that Prince George’s County Public School received federal assistance, starting in 2009, which had the primary objective of providing employment.  In 2009, PGCPS, which has a annual budget of approximately $1.7 billion, received $140 million in federal stimulus funds which it used to avert laying off hundreds of teachers and other school workers.

The verdict allows Jon Everhart’s $5 million race discrimination/retaliation lawsuit to advance to trial.  The trial is scheduled to begin on July 15, 2014.  Mr. Everhart, a white English teacher, alleges that he was racially harassed by Principal Angelique Simpson-Marcus of Largo High School, who is African American.  The standard of prove under Title VI is the same as under Title VII,  except Title VII has a cap on damages of $300,000 while Title VI has no cap on damages.

Mr. Everhart was hired by PGCPS and assigned to Largo High School in 2003.  From 2003 until 2009, Mr. Everhart was a popular teacher who taught English literature and received perfect job performance evaluations from several Largo High School principals.  In the fall of 2007, Principal Simpson-Marcus became the principal of Largo High School.  In 2009 and 2010, Principal Simpson-Marcus gave Mr. Everhart unsatisfactory job performance evaluations which resulted in his termination in June 2010.

In 2003, students informed Mr. Everhart that Ms. Simpson-Marcus, then a physical education teacher, told her gym class: “The only reason a white man teaches in PG County is that they can’t get a job elsewhere.”  Mr. Everhart filed a union grievance against Ms. Simpson-Marcus alleging racial harassment.  Shortly thereafter, Ms. Simpson-Marcus told Mr. Everhart that if she ever became principal, he would be the first person she would fire.

In the summer of 2007, Ms. Simpson-Marcus became the principal of Largo High School.  Beginning in the fall of 2007, Principal Simpson-Marcus told Mr. Everhart that she would fire him and take away his teaching certificate as “payback” for a time when white principals mistreated black teachers.  Principal Simpson-Marcus called Mr. Everhart “poor white trash” and “white bitch” to his face and made similar comments about Mr. Everhart in the presence of  his students.  Principal Simpson-Marcus told Mr. Everhart that he needed to transfer to a white suburban school, which she referred to as “Whiteville”.  Mr. Everhart observed Principal Simpson-Marcus harassing other white teachers as well.

PGCPS would not allow Mr. Everhart to transfer to another school.  In 2009, Mr. Everhart became depressed and his blood pressure rose to dangerous levels.  Mr. Everhart complained about Principal Simpson-Marcus to anyone who would listen.  Principal Simpson-Marcus retaliates against African American teachers and staff who speak up on Mr. Everhart’s behalf with threats and racial and sexual name-calling, such as, “black bitch” and “black ass”.  The jury verdict also allowed two of these African American plaintiffs to go forward with their race discrimination lawsuits against Principal Simpson-Marcus.

Mr. Everhart, and other working on his behalf, complained verbally and in writing about Principal Simpson-Marcus’s racial harassment to school board officials, including former Superintendent William Hite.  Despite these complaints, PGCPS never conducted an investigation and never took corrective action against Principal Simpson-Marcus.  During his final two years, Principal Simpson-Marcus repeatedly wrote up Mr. Everhart and gave him negative job performance evaluations which lead to his termination in June 2010.

Title VI allows relief for employment discrimination when “providing employment is a primary objective of the federal aid”.  Venkatraman v. REI Systems, Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 421 (4th Cir. 2005); Trageser v. Libbie Rehabilitation Ctr., Inc., 590 F2d 87 (4th Cir. 1978) (“…employment is a primary objective of the federal aid”).  Title VI applies even if the plaintiff is not the ultimate beneficiary of federal financial assistance, such as, a student.

34 C.F.R. § 100.3(c) Employment practices states:

§ 100.3 Discrimination prohibited. (c) Employment practices. (1) Where a primary objective of the Federal financial assistance to a program to which this regulation applies is to provide employment, a recipient may not (directly or through contractual or other arrangements) subject an individual to discrimination on the ground of race, color, or national origin in its employment practices under such program (including recruitment or recruitment advertising, employment, layoff or termination, upgrading, demotion, or transfer, rates of pay or other forms of compensation, and use of facilities)…

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Public Law III-5, states in Section 3(a)(1) that the purpose of the Act  includes “To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery.”  The Act states the following:


The purpose of this Act includes the following:

(1) To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery.

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire


Four Discrimination Lawsuits against Prince George’s County Public School System Advance To Trial In Federal Court.

Two different federal judges have ruled that a total of four separate discrimination lawsuits against the Prince George’s County Public School System can advance to trial in federal court.  Collectively, these four discrimination lawsuits allege violations of the following laws:

  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – failing to accommodate an employee with a known disability.
  • Title VI and Title VII – racial hostile work environment/retaliation.
  • Title VII and Title IX – sexual hostile work environment/retaliation.

The four plaintiffs include two white men and two African American women.  One lawsuit is demanding $1,000,000 and three lawsuits are demanding $5,000,000.

The school system has a two billion dollar annual budget.  The school system also receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance, so there is no cap on the amount of damages a jury can award in each of the four lawsuits.

One of the four lawsuits alleges that Angelique Simpson-Marcus, the African American principal of Largo High School, called Jon Everhart, a white male English teacher, “white bitch” and “poor white trash”.  In the fall of 2007, the principal told Mr. Everhart that she would fire him and take away his teaching certificate as “payback” for a time when white principals mistreated black teachers.  Complaints of racial harassment were made to Superintendent William Hite and other school board officials in 2008 and 2009, nonetheless, the racial harassment/retaliation continued until Mr. Everhart was terminated in the summer of 2010.  Jon Everhart v. Board of Education of Prince George’s County, 11-cv-1196 (PJM)

Fourth Circuit cases:

Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179 (4th Cir. 2001)

Jennings v. Univ. of N.C., 482 F.3d 723 (4th Cir. 2007)

EEOC v. Fairbrook Med. Clinic, P.A., 609 F.3d 320 (4th Cir. 2010).

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

Phone: (202) 558-6168

E-mail: bchapman@baclaw.com


Audit: Prince George’s County schools used stimulus funds for principals’ watches, microwave ovens

Audit: Prince George’s County schools used stimulus funds for principals’ watches, microwave ovens

May 23, 2013
Photo - A federal audit shows that Prince George's County schools misused nearly $167,000 in stimulus money on personal items. (Photo: Thinkstock)
A federal audit shows that Prince George’s County schools misused nearly $167,000 in stimulus money on personal items. (Photo: Thinkstock)                     

A federal audit shows that Prince George’s County schools misused nearly $167,000 in stimulus money on things like a microwave oven and minifridge for a school administrator, engraved watches for principals and a legal book on the firing of school employees.

The audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General also found that Prince George’s schools couldn’t produce adequate paperwork to back up an additional $124,000 in stimulus expenses, including electric bills, overpayments to vendors, catering end-of-year events and a mother-daughter tea.

The report reviewed how Prince George’s and Baltimore City schools spent federal grant money in 2009 and 2010. It also found that Prince George’s school teachers and officials were using tablet computers for personal use and had downloaded unauthorized applications, such as the games Angry Birds and Words With Friends, the Bible and instant messaging service Skype.

Those unallowed expenditures include $8,736 for 145 engraved watches and velvet bags to hold them, 100 engraved laser pens that doubled as USB drives and 150 personalized folders that were handed out during a 2011 principals’ meeting. Prince George’s schools also spent $525 for a trip to a skating rink for students who improved their behavior and $1,083 for a rental car that the school district can’t provide a receipt for.

Shopping list
Unallowable purchases made with stimulus money:
» Minifridge and microwave for TurnAround Schools’ administrator’s personal use: $411
» 145 engraved watches, 100 engraved laser pens, 150 personalized folders for principals: $8,736
» Legal book on termination of school employees: $180
» Travel expenses for 85 students, teachers and parents to conference in Texas: $108,882
» Advance payment for a rental car that was never rented: $1,083
» Trip to skating rink to recognize students who improved their behavior: $525
» Electric bills incurred before the stimulus bill was signed into law: $13,785
» Personalized portfolio binder bags, book bags, pens, pocket folders and water bottles for a career expo: $6,463

“We are aware of the draft audit report findings, and have responded with our comments,” Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesman Briant Coleman wrote in an email. “While we do not concur with a number of the findings, we do agree there is room for improvement and we will continue to work with [the U.S. Department of Education] to rectify this matter.”

Prince George’s County argued in a response to the government that $124,369 of the $166,606 in expenditures that auditors found to be unallowable were actually permitted under the rules of the grants. The county said it did indeed have documentation to back up $95,994 of the $123,889 in inadequately supported or unsupported expenditures.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has pushed for more control over a school system that has lagged behind neighbors in test scores and has had trouble keeping superintendents. The General Assembly earlier this year passed a bill to allow Baker to appoint a superintendent from a list provided by an independent committee, as well as add new members to the school board.

A spokesman for Baker did not respond to a request for comment.

The audit recommends that Prince George’s County return the money it wasn’t authorized to spend and any money for which it can’t provide proper documentation.

Maryland Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said the state is providing more information and working with the federal government to resolve the findings of the audit and wouldn’t comment further until that process is complete.


U.S. Department of Labor: Prince George’s County Public Schools charged with violating provisions of H-1B temporary foreign worker program..

News Release

WHD News Release: [04/04/2011]  

Prince George’s County Public Schools charged with violating provisions of H-1B temporary foreign worker program

US Department of Labor orders $4.2 million in back wages be paid to 1,044 teachers, fines school system $1.7 million in civil money penalties

WASHINGTON— An investigation by the U.S. Department  of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found Maryland’s  Prince George’s  County Public Schools system in willful violation of the laws that govern the H-1B  temporary foreign worker visa program. Investigators found that PGCPS illegally  reduced the wages of 1,044 foreign teachers hired under the H-1B program by  requiring the payment of $4,224,146 in fees. The Labor Department is responsible  for ensuring H-1B workers are paid in accordance with the law and that  employers do not misuse visa programs in ways that adversely affect U.S. workers.

The H-1B program allows employers to  hire foreign professionals to work temporarily in the U.S.  So that the wages of similarly employed U.S.  workers are not adversely affected, workers hired under the H-1B program must  be paid at least the same wage rates and benefits as those paid to U.S. workers  doing the same job in the same area.

“All employers, including school systems, are  required to follow the law. That includes the legal duty to pay every teacher hired  the full wages he or she is owed,” said Nancy J. Leppink, acting administrator  of the Wage and Hour Division.

Due to the willful nature of some  of the violations, PGCPS has been assessed $1,740,000 in civil money penalties and  may be debarred from filing new petitions, requests for extensions or requests  for permanent residency for foreign workers under any employment-based visa  program. Violations are willful when an employer knew or acted in reckless  disregard for whether its actions were impermissible.

The H-1B visa program requires that employers  pay certain fees incurred when they utilize the program.  Instead of paying these fees, PGCPS required the foreign  teachers to pay them. As a result, the teachers’ earnings were reduced below  the amount legally required to be paid.

Washington Post: Prince George’s County Public Schools officials lose jobs after internal investigation.

Prince George’s officials lose jobs after internal investigation

By , Published: September 28

Two top administrators for Maryland’s second-largest school system were removed from their jobs Thursday for using school funds to make an unauthorized payment to the former head of human resources after she resigned, according to school officials with direct knowledge of the firings.

Roger C. Thomas, the general counsel for the Prince George’s County school system, and Matthew E. Stanski, its chief financial officer, were dismissed after it was discovered that former human resources director Synthia J. Shilling received a six-figure check after her August resignation, said the officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak about the firings.

Neither Thomas nor Stanski responded to repeated efforts to reach them for comment.

The dismissals came after board members met in two executive sessions over the past week to discuss legal and personnel matters. On Thursday, the board called an emergency executive session.

Briant Coleman, a spokesman for the school system, would not confirm Thomas’s and Stanski’s employment status or details surrounding the firings. He released a statement saying that personnel matters are confidential.

“Last week an allegation was brought to the attention of the Board of Education and the interim Superintendent that specific Board directives issued in July and again in August regarding severance packages for members of the executive cabinet who resigned from employment were not properly followed,” Coleman said in the statement.

“The Board immediately directed the interim Superintendent to investigate the allegation and take personnel action if he determined it appropriate to do so. Certain personnel actions have been taken,” he said. “However, because information relating to personnel investigations and actions are confidential, no additional information will be provided at this time. This matter continues to be under review.”

Shilling, who had worked for the school system since 2006, resigned in August. At the time, she was facing trial for leaving the scene of an accident. Records show she was paid $172,289 a year.

On Aug. 28, The Washington Post submitted a request under the Maryland Public Information Act for details about Shilling’s final pay. Thomas denied the request on Aug. 31, saying that the records had personnel-related information.

On Thursday, Thomas was seen pushing a cart of boxes filled with his belongings out of the school system’s headquarters. He had worked as a lawyer for the school system since 2005. According to records, he was paid $189,870 a year.

Stanski, who was hired in 2007, served temporarily as the acting head of human resources in 2009 while he also worked as the budget chief. Records show he made $154,710 a year.

With the chief financial officer and general counsel gone, Alvin Crawley, the interim schools chief, finds himself, barely a month on the job, scrambling to fill key positions in the executive cabinet. Crawley, who did not return a call seeking comment, replaced William R. Hite Jr. on Sept. 4. Since taking office, he has replaced Shilling.

Prince George’s has experienced a leadership upheaval in the past three months, with numerous resignations and firings in central offices. The school system has lost its school superintendent, deputy superintendent, human resources chief, budget chief and general counsel.

The most recent dismissals come at a crucial time for the school system. In the next couple of months, Crawley begins preparing for the 2013-14 fiscal budget. It will be his first.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Washington Post: Judge allows discrimination suit against Prince George’s schools to move forward

Posted at  04:55 PM ET, 04/24/2012


Judge allows discrimination suit against Prince George’s schools to move forward


It appears the winner of the first round in a legal battle against the Prince George’s Board of Education is a group of plaintiffs who have alleged discrimination by school leaders.

A federal district court judge ruled recently that more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the school system can be recognized as Title VI claims, which means in part that the lawsuits can move forward without a damage cap.

Some past and present system employees allege in the lawsuits that they were discriminated against because they are female, white, African, or  light-skinned African American. The school system has denied all the accusations.

The school system had argued that the cases should have been filed under a different statute – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which would have meant that the complaints would have been investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission decides if a lawsuit is warranted and caps the damages at $300,000.

Bryan Chapman, the plaintiffs’ attorney, argued that Title VI was applicable because the alleged incidents occurred when the school system accepted federal stimulus money in 2008. The lawsuits are seeking between $5 million and $10 million.

In his opinion, Judge Peter J. Messitte writes: “Section 601 of Title VI provides: ‘No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.’”

The board asked for the claims to be dismissed, arguing that the primary purpose of the federal funds was for educational services for students, not to create or retain jobs. The court disagreed.

Chapman said he was not surprised by the judge’s findings.

“There is a sense of relief, but not surprise,” he said. “I question their judgement on allowing this to get to this point. There will be more claims on individual hostile work environments.”

The school system said it would continue to fight the suits.

“The Court’s ruling requires the plaintiffs to prove their cases on the merits,” Briant Coleman, a school spokesman said in an e-mail. “And we intend to strongly defend against each case that has been filed.”

The lawsuits largely stem from complaints against Largo High School and its principal Angelique Simpson Marcus.

Chapman said Simpson Marcus would call secretaries names, such as “chicken heads” and “hood rats.”

The teachers said they were also mistreated for supporting Jon Everhart, a white teacher, who said he thought Simpson Marcus wanted to fire him because of his race.

By | 04:55 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Federal Court recognizes Title VI (race discrimination and retaliation) claims against the Board of Education of Prince George’s County.

On April 9, 2012, a Maryland federal court issued an opinion that recognizes Title VI (race discrimination and retaliation) claims against the Board of Education of Prince George’s County, because the school board received federal stimulus funds.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in employment and employment practices in programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.

From 2009 to 2012, the Board of Education of Prince George’s County was the recipient of over $100 million in federal assistance under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Education Job Fund.  Ten pending lawsuits against the Board of Education of Prince George’s County allege race discrimination and retaliation by the school system.

§2000d Prohibition against exclusion from participation in, denial of benefits of, and discrimination under federally assisted programs on ground of race, color or national origin

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Title VI, like Title IX, also encompasses claims of retaliation.  Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. Of Educ., 544 U.S. 167 (2005); Preston v. Virginia, 31 F.3d 203 (4th Cir. 1994).

For plaintiffs, Title VI has advantages over Title VII:

1) Under Title VI, the plaintiff need not file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before fiing a lawsuit in federal court.  Under Title VII, the plaintiff is required to file a complaint with EEOC as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit in federal court.

2) Under Title VI, depending on the state, the plaintiff could have three years in which to file a lawsuit in federal court.  Under Title VII, the statute of limitations for filing a complaint with EEOC is generally 180 days.

3) Under Title VI, there is no stated limit on damage awards.  Under Title VII, compensatory and punitive damage awards are capped at $300,000.

A word of caution:  In private actions, Title VI requires that the defendant receive “actual notice” and exhibit “deliberate indifference”.  These requirements severely restrict the use of Title VI in private actions.

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire


Washington Post’s Blog: Paperwork piles up in Prince George’s teacher discrimination cases

Posted at  05:56 PM ET, 11/01/2011

Paperwork piles up in Pr. Geo’s teacher discrimination cases


Is there something systemically wrong with the way Prince George’s school system is training its leaders?

That’s the case attorney Bryan Chapman has been trying to make for nearly a year, through flooding the district courts with lawsuits against the school board alleging that the principals and other supervisors have run amok.

He is representing angry employees, of the past and present, who claim discrimination for being a woman, or white, or African, or a light-skinned  African American. The school system has denied all the accusations.

The judge already dismissed the idea of filing one case that encompasses all the complaints. By August, Chapman had filed lawsuits on behalf of 16 staff members, alleging the system violated the Civil Rights Act. Since then, he’s filed four more. Four of the cases have been heard in the federal district court in Greenbelt over the past two weeks, the most recent on Monday.

Three of the four cases have been dismissed, with Judge Peter J. Messitte instructing Chapman to add more detail to his lawsuits.

So far, both the school system and Chapman are voicing confidence they will succeed. Here are their perspectives in a debate that threatens to cost the system millions:

Chapman’s view: Typically, employee discrimination cases are filed under a part of the Civil Rights Act that caps damages at $300,000. Chapman’s biggest victory so far is that the judge has not yet thrown out the idea that the system’s acceptance of federal stimulus dollars in 2008 allows for them to be sued under a different statute of the Civil Rights Acts, giving clients the ability to seek damages beyond $300,000.

Chapman is also relieved that the judge has not yet dismissed the cases outright, but rather given the option to file them again, with amendments.  That means there’s still an opportunity for his clients to reap big dividends from the struggling system — most are asking for damages in the range of $5 million to $10 million.

School system’s perspective:Abbey G. Hairston is representing the school board. She’s arguing that the judge’s call for Chapman to refashion the lawsuits only proves the cases are shaky.

Chapman has already refiled two of the four cases that have been heard so far, and Hairston plans to argue that those cases should be dismissed as well.

As for the 13 cases waiting to be heard, she’ll be making a similar argument that they are poorly constructed and are based on improper interpretation of the Civil Rights Act. She is also arguing that the clog of paperwork will ultimately damage a financially fragile school system by forcing it to spend money that could be used in classrooms.

// By | 05:56 PM ET, 11/01/2011

P.G. Gazette: Employees sue Prince George’s school board for discrimination.

Published: Thursday, August 25, 2011
Employees sue Prince George’s school board for discrimination by Abby Brownback
Staff Writer

Hearings in the cases of 16 employees of Prince George’s County Public Schools who are suing the school board for $5 million each, alleging they faced discrimination and hostile work environments, are slated to begin Oct. 18 and continue into November in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Eleven of employees work or worked at Largo High School.

The cases show “a pattern of this type of thing going on throughout the school system,” said Bryan A. Chapman, the Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing each of the plaintiffs.

In each complaint, the plaintiffs describe discrimination, intimidation and retaliation from superiors in county high schools based on race, age, national origin or their support for another teacher.

“We plan to vigorously oppose each lawsuit as we do not believe any of them have merit,” Briant Coleman, the school system’s spokesman, wrote in an email to The Gazette. “These cases are not an indicator that PGCPS has a problem with discrimination lawsuits. Given that there are 18,000 employees, lawsuits filed by 16 individuals is not a flood.”

Five of the cases name the Prince George’s County Educators Association, a union, as a co-defendant.
Christopher Feldenzer, a Towson-based attorney representing PGCEA, said the union denies the allegations. Feldenzer has filed motions to dismiss each of the cases.

Many of the cases can trace their origin to Jon Everhart, a white man who taught English at Largo High starting in 2003. Then a gym teacher and now the principal, Angelique Simpson-Marcus made racially derogatory comments about Everhart, Chapman said, and moved him from teaching upper-level English classes to freshman classes.

Three former Largo High secretaries filed lawsuits alleging Simpson-Marcus called them graphic and offensive names such as “hood rat” and “chicken head.”

Other school employees allege they were harrassed by Simpson-Marcus for supporting Everhart, Chapman said.

Simpson-Marcus referred a request for comment to Coleman.

Thirteen of the complaints were filed as a single case Nov. 22 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, but Judge Peter J. Messitte dismissed the case, telling Chapman to file them individually, which he did in May.

In addition to the 11 cases involving Largo High, five other cases have been filed by employees who worked at Bladensburg High School, Central High School in Capitol Heights, Crossland High School in Temple Hills, DuVal High School in Lanham and Laurel High School.

Greenbelt-based Thatcher Law Firm LLC, which is representing the school system, did not return a call for comment by Tuesday morning.

Josephat Mua, who was the information technology coordinator at Laurel High, said he observed in 2008 teachers failing to sign the required contracts to check out equipment and the improper use of school-based funds to purchase computer equipment. When he complained to the school system’s internal audit department, he was demoted to the position of IT coordinator for six elementary schools.

Laurel High Principal Dwayne Jones declined to comment.

At one of the elementary schools to which Mua was assigned, Columbia Park Elementary School in Landover, he said he allegedly found the Principal Michelle Tyler-Skinner selling jewelry out of an empty classroom. When he complained, Mua, who is originally from Kenya, said he was reassigned to a job as a help desk technician, where he received calls from people who called him an “[expletive] Nigerian.”

“I let them get away with it at Laurel,” he said. “This time I decided to go up to them.”

A call to Tyler-Skinner was not immediately returned Tuesday morning.

Employees are familiar with the administrative procedure for filing complaints about alleged discrimination, Coleman wrote, and the procedure will not change for this school year.


© 2011 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net

The Washington Post: Prince George’s school board faces a flood of discrimination lawsuits

Prince George’s school board faces flood of discrimination lawsuits

By , Published: August 14

A light-skinned science teacher in Prince George’s County says he didn’t get promoted because his supervisor prefers dark-skinned teachers. An African immigrant in the information technology department says he has been mocked by African Americans.

And there are two teachers who say a young black principal forced them out because they are in their 60s and white.

It’s not unusual for a board of education to face a handful of employee discrimination cases at any given time. But the Prince George’s school board now faces 16.

“Honestly, this is unusual,” said Abbey G. Hairston, a lawyer whose firm represents the county’s Board of Education. “I’ve been practicing 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. And I wish I hadn’t.”

Representing the plaintiffs in all 16 multimillion-dollar cases is a lawyer who is quickly building a reputation as the go-to attorney in the county for disaffected school system employees. Bryan Chapman said he’s using the cases to make a larger point about the Prince George’s education system.

“What we’re seeing across the board is that when people have complained about discrimination, they suddenly become targets of the system,” Chapman said. “And their supervisors are then doing things to throw them out.”

The Prince George’s County Education Association, the teachers union, is named as a co-defendant in five of the 16 cases; the suits allege it did not do enough to address the teachers’ complaints.

Hairston chalks up the allegations to vindictive employees and a lawyer who is “trying to make a name for himself and filing cases willy-nilly.” She has filed motions to dismiss all of the cases, which are scheduled to be heard between September and November.

Still, the suits raise questions about leadership during a time of reform. Both sides agree that most cases resulted from measures by school leaders to try to rein in their schools’ problems in an age of heightened accountability. However, the staff members lodging the complaints say leaders have been unprofessional and ran amok.

In the past eight months, the cases have generated almost 1,000 pages of legal documents.

They stem from a set of complaints at Largo High School. Chapman got involved after a teacher met him while filing a harassment complaint. The teacher then gathered others, mostly from Largo High, at Jasper’s restaurant to explain their case.

The faculty members said that their principal, Angelique Simpson Marcus, routinely called her secretaries names, such as “chicken heads,” “ghetto” and “hood rats.”

The teachers also say they were mistreated for vocally supporting teacher Jon Everhart, who said he thought Simpson Marcus wanted to fire him because he is white.

Everhart said Simpson Marcus told students she would change their grades to ensure that every student passed his class. Also, many of the teachers said, Simpson Marcus said that “the only reason a white teacher would teach in P.G. is that they can’t get a job somewhere else.”

Simpson Marcus did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. The school system denied the allegations.

In November, Chapman filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Greenbelt on behalf of Everhart and a dozen others who had allegations of harassment.

In April, Judge Peter J. Messitte dismissed the case but encouraged Chapman to file cases one by one.

Typically, employment discrimination suits are filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employees must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission investigates the claim, then determines whether the individual has a right to sue for damages, capped at $300,000.

Only six of Chapman’s clients have a “right-to-sue” letter.

Chapman is also arguing that the school board violated other parts of the Civil Rights Act that state that organizations receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin or — in a separate statute — sex. In these cases, there are no caps on damages.

The school system’s liability, he argues, results from its acceptance of federal stimulus dollars in 2008 — around the time of the incidents. All of the suits are in the $5 million-to-$10 million range.

The school system says Chapman’s move is an attempt “to be clever and seek more damages” for cases that should be filed under Title VII.

As he was building the cases involving Largo High, Chapman got calls from more employees in different situations.

Josephat Mua, a Kenyan immigrant, said that his colleagues generated a hostile work environment by calling him “Zamunda,” after the fictional African country in the movie “Coming to America.”

Angela Sator said she and other women were bullied by an assistant principal at Bladensburg High School.

Sally Rogers, who also worked at Largo High, says that she was deliberately given poorly performing students for her Latin classes, then chastised for not being able to get them to perform. She said she became so fearful of the principal that the sight of her made her shake.

“I don’t think I can ever teach again,” Rogers said. “I didn’t want to believe it, but I really felt that I was being discriminated against. And I couldn’t come up with any other reason than the fact that I was older and I was white.”



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: