The Gazette: Jury awards $350,000 in compensatory damages

Teacher fired in Prince George’s school system wins lawsuit alleging retaliation

Jury awards $350,000 in compensatory damages

A former Largo High School English teacher was awarded $350,000 compensatory damages by U.S. District Court in a lawsuit against the Prince George’s County school system for retaliation.

According to court documents, Jon Everhart, who is white, attempted to file a race discrimination grievance with the county teacher’s union after the principal, who is black, allegedly used several racial epithets against Everhart in the presence of students, teachers, staff and parents.

The principal did not return multiple phone or email messages to request comment for this story.

Everhart’s suit alleges the principal promised to fire him in “payback” for black teachers fired by white principals.

PGCPS spokesman Max Pugh said neither the school system nor its attorney could comment on the case, due to further litigation pending in district court.

Everhart filed multiple complaints, but the school system did not respond to his accusations, said Bryan Chapman, Everhart’s attorney.

Following the complaints by Everhart and others in 2008, Everhart began receiving unsatisfactory performance reviews, according to Chapman, who said that Everhart had previously been named Largo’s 2005-2006 Teacher of the Year.

After two years of unsatisfactory performance reviews, his employment was terminated August 2010 and his teaching credentials revoked, according to documents filed with the court on behalf of Everhart.

In addition to the $350,000 in damages, Everhart, 65, will also be awarded back pay and retirement benefits, the exact amounts of which have yet to be determined, Chapman said

“This has been a huge relief for Mr. Everhart, because now he can get back to having a normal life,” Chapman said, adding that his client, who now lives in Westerville, Ohio, has been unemployed and has suffered health problems, such as high blood pressure, because of the alleged retaliation.

“Any human being harassed like that is going to get ill,” Chapman said.

The jury found in favor of the school system in Everhart’s claim of hostile work environment, but Chapman said he has filed for a retrial on that charge, adding that the judge did not give the jury mixed motive instructions, which would apply in cases of alleged racial harassment.

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Washington Post: White teacher wins $350,000 in Prince George’s schools bia lawsuit.

August 8 at 4:33 PM 

A former Prince George’s County teacher won a $350,000 jury award after accusing the school system of discriminating against him because he is white.

Jon Everhart alleged in his lawsuit against the Prince George’s County school board that a black principal forced him out of his job because of his race.

“Justice was served,” Everhart said. “I do feel as though I have been vindicated.”

Everhart, 65, speaking by phone from Ohio after the verdict in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, said he faced years of racial harassment from the Largo High School principal, who he said repeatedly told staffers and students that she planned to fire him.

“She called me ‘poor white trash’ and ‘white b—-,’ ” Everhart said of the principal, Angelique Simpson-Marcus, who leads the 1,100-student school in Upper Marlboro. “Her behavior was so outlandish.”

Simpson-Marcus said in an interview that the allegations are baseless. She declined to comment on the reason for Everhart’s termination, but she said the complaints of ill treatment and retaliation were “unfounded.”

“I never said any of those things,” she said. “I don’t use that kind of language.”

Max Pugh, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County school system, said he could not comment on the case because the litigation is ongoing; the school system has 30 days to respond to the judge’s order and could file an appeal.

Everhart sued in 2010 after he was fired, and he was one of several Largo High School employees who made allegations of harassment. Some who filed lawsuits said they were mistreated for vocally supporting Everhart.

Bryan Chapman, Everhart’s attorney, argued that the Board of Education violated the Civil Rights Act, which says organizations receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. There is no cap in potential damages in such cases; Everhart originally sought $5 million.

The jury sided with Everhart on the discrimination claim, but it found in favor of the county school board on Everhart’s claim of a hostile work environment.

Everhart’s award is for compensatory damages. He said he has suffered from high blood pressure and heart problems as a result of his treatment at Largo.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte will later decide how much Everhart should receive in back pay and benefits. The school system has 30 days to show why Everhart should not receive retirement and health benefits and why his teaching certificate, which was revoked when he was fired, should not be restored.

Everhart, a former Baltimore city teacher, was hired by Prince George’s in 2003 and was assigned to teach English at Largo. At that time, Simpson-Marcus was a physical education teacher.

Everhart said Simpson-Marcus told students that the “only reason a white teacher teaches in P. G. County is that they can’t get a job elsewhere.” He filed a union grievance against her and said she told him that if she ever became principal, he would be the first person she would fire.

Chapman said that when Simpson-Marcus returned to Largo as its principal, Everhart, who was once named the school’s Teacher of the Year and who received stellar evaluations, started to receive unsatisfactory performance evaluations.

Everhart said he was removed from teaching honors English to juniors and seniors — classes in which he was popular — and was placed in a freshman class, where Simpson-Marcus allegedly told students that Everhart was going to lose his job.

Chapman said that Everhart filed complaints but that they were often ignored. He tried to get transferred to another high school, but the effort was blocked, Chapman said. There was never a school system investigation of the matter, Chapman and Everhart said.

“I just think it was a disgrace, and I think that’s what the jury saw, too,” Chapman said.

 

 

 

The Sentinel: Board of Education loses

Board of Education loses

  • 30 Jul 2014
  • Written by  Kelsey Sutton

 

GREENBELT — A federal court ordered the Prince George’s County Board of Education to pay a former Largo High School teacher $350,000 in damages for firing the teacher as retaliation for a discrimination complaint, but the teacher’s attorney said the case may not be over yet.

“I am delighted,” said Bryan Chapman, attorney for plaintiff Jon Everhart, a former Largo High School literature teacher. “[The decision] gave Jon Everhart some relief after four years.”

Everhart, a former teacher of the year, filed a lawsuit after the school system fired him in Aug. 2010.

Everhart claims Largo High School Principal Angelique Simpson-Marcus made racially-fueled discriminatory remarks toward him, and when he filed complaints with the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association and the Board of Education, the school system fired him in retaliation.

Everhart claims he first became aware of discriminatory remarks from Simpson-Marcus in 2003, when a student notified him. The student told Everhart that Simpson-Marcus, a gym teacher at the time, told her class, “The only reason a white man teaches in P.G. County is that they can’t get a job elsewhere.”

After he filed his grievance, Everhart claims Simpson-Marcus told him if she became principal he would be the first person she would fire. After Simpson-Marcus became principal in 2007, Everhart claims she called him “poor white trash” and other derogatory terms in front of students, parents, teachers and staff. Everhart also claims he received negative evaluations after Simpson-Marcus became principal.

The federal jury found Everhart’s firing was illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from being fired from federally funded schools as retaliation for issuing complaints of racial discrimination.

The jury also ruled the Board of Education needs to pay for health and retirement benefits, as well as lost pay, which Chapman claims is in excess of $200,000, putting his total reward at more than $500,000.

The jury, however, contrary to Everhart’s claims, found he did not experience a hostile work environment during his time at Largo High School.

Chapman said he and Everhart may seek to further pursue the hostile work environment charge.

“It’s not over,” Chapman said. “There are going to be more fireworks.”

Max Pugh, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools , said he could not comment on ongoing legal matters.

Everhart said when he brought the issue of his alleged harassment to the attention of the school board they did nothing to address his complaints. Everhart then contended he was further harassed, mistreated and ultimately fired because of the complaints he filed.

But the Board’s attorney argued there was no harassment, just a disgruntled former teacher trying to make excuses for his poor classroom performance.  “This case is about an under-performing teacher who refused to take responsibility for his failures,” defense attorney Robert Baror said in closing arguments.  Baror defended Simpson-Marcus, saying she was simply doing her job and holding Everhart accountable for failing to maintain adequate student performance in his classroom.

Chapman contended low teacher evaluations were a direct result of the harassment Everhart faced and the complaints he began filing.

Everhart took the stand himself, with hundreds of documented letters he sent to his union representative regarding the harassment.  “The Board of Education ignored the harassment and the complaints in the personnel file increased,” Chapman said during closing arguments. “They’re blaming the victim.”

Throughout the trial, the case also relied on testimony from one of Everhart’s former students, former assistant principals and other school employees.

The Board of Education has 30 days to respond to the jury’s decision.

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:

SEC. 3. PURPOSES AND PRINCIPLES. (a) STATEMENT OF PURPOSES.

The purpose of this Act includes the following:

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

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

www.baclaw.com

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