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.

abrownback@gazette.net


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

Washington Post: Prince George’s schools sued over alleged discrimination

Prince George’s schools sued over alleged discrimination by principal Angelique Simpson Marcus

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 6:23 PM

A group of current and former Prince George’s County school employees has filed a lawsuit against the school system, alleging that a principal engaged in systematic discrimination against white teachers and the African American teachers and staffers who came to their defense.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Monday, alleges that Angelique Simpson Marcus, the principal of Largo High School, has targeted white teachers because of their race, and the African American teachers and employees who stood up for them, since she became principal in 2007. The lawsuit alleges a pattern of name-calling, derogatory language and attempts to transfer or fire employees who displeased her.

Simpson Marcus referred comments to a spokesman for the Prince George’s County schools Tuesday. The spokesman, Darrell Pressley, said, “We have not been served with a complaint, therefore we’re not in a position to provide any substantive comment at this time.”

Filing the lawsuit were two white teachers and eight African American staff members, among them teachers, secretaries and a guidance counselor. Two of them are still at the school. The others were laid off or transferred to other schools. Two other teachers joined the lawsuit but do not teach at Largo High School.

The lawsuit alleges that Simpson Marcus made derogatory statements about one white teacher, Jon Everhart, based on his race, and that she criticized and harassed both him and another white teacher, Sally Rogers, and assigned them to teach remedial courses that were not their specialty. The principal told students and parents that the teachers were bad and that they would pass the class regardless of the grade given by the teacher, the suit alleges. Rogers remains at the school as a Latin teacher. Everhart, 61, was fired based on unsatisfactory evaluations in August.

“To my face she said that the only reason that a white person gets a job in Largo is because they couldn’t get a job somewhere else,” Everhart said Tuesday. He said he lost his teaching certificate and his pension, was evicted from his apartment and is now substitute teaching in Ohio. “She told me that ‘by the time I’m done with you, you won’t be able to get a job anywhere,’ ” he said.

The lawsuit alleges that Simpson Marcus also targeted African American teachers, secretaries and a guidance counselor who advocated on behalf of the white teachers. Secretaries were subjected to a variety of crude sexual insults, the suit alleges. Other teachers and the guidance counselor were insulted based on their age and physical condition, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also names the Prince George’s teachers union. The staff members allege that the union employee in charge of defending them against discrimination, Jimalatice Thomas-Gilbert, refused to give several of them the forms to file grievances. They also say she was attempting to recruit the principal to join a home-based direct-selling network that would have benefited Thomas-Gilbert financially.

Neither Thomas-Gilbert nor Donald Briscoe, the head of the teachers union, responded to e-mails and phone calls Tuesday.

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