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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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

www.baclaw.com

Gazette: School employees sue over alleged discrimination

Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010

School employees sue over alleged discrimination

Teachers and secretaries, past and current, claim Largo High’s black principal treated them unfairly

A dozen current and former Prince George’s County Public School employees recently filed a multi-million lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the school system and the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association, alleging racial discrimination at work.

The $50 million mass action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt Nov. 22 by 12 former and current county school teachers and secretaries against the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association and Prince George’s County Public Schools.

The lawsuit alleges that Largo High School Principal Angelique Simpson-Marcus, a black woman who took the job in 2007, has targeted white teachers because of their race and in an effort to force the white teachers out of the school and black teachers and employees who stood up for them.

The lawsuit also alleges that Simpson-Marcus exhibited inappropriate language — including name-calling — and attempted to fire or transfer some employees.

Simpson-Marcus said in an e-mail Friday that she was referring questions to county schools.

Darrell Pressley, a Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesman, said Friday that county schools have received a copy of the lawsuit but because of pending litigation he cannot comment.

Two of the 12 plaintiffs are current employees at Largo High; eight are no longer at Largo High; one is a teacher at Central High School in Capitol Heights; and one is a teacher at Crossland High School in Temple Hills, according to the lawsuit.

Ten of the 12 plaintiffs are black and two are white, according to the lawsuit. Two of the plaintiffs are men and 10 are women.

Largo High English teacher Venida Marshall, 64, of Suitland said Friday that she stands by everything written in the lawsuit.

“I totally support and back everything that is in the lawsuit,” said Marshall, a black woman who has been at Largo since 2006.

Darlene Ball-Rice, 49, of Upper Marlboro said Monday the discrimination that Simpson-Marcus is alleged to have committed against blacks and whites and mostly older staff members became worse when some people spoke in defense of others.

“If you speak up about it, she works on having you transferred out,” said Ball-Rice, who is no longer at Largo High. “It seems that anyone that we defended… then you became her target.”

Nicole Turner, 48, of Landover, a secretary at Largo, and Vallie B. Dean, 66, of Upper Marlboro, a business education teacher at Largo, both declined to comment. Both women are black.

Marshall, Turner and Dean are three of the 12 plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit.

Bryan A. Chapman of the Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman in Washington, D.C., who is the attorney representing the 12 plaintiffs named in suit, said he foresees an “indefinite number” of others also filing lawsuits, but did not know when.

“Each person’s experience is different and unique — it tells of a common theme,” Chapman said. “It seemed to be a goal to eliminate these white teachers from [Prince George’s] County public schools.”

The lawsuit also names Jimelatice Gilbert-Thomas with the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association, who was to have advocated for a white, male teacher at Largo High who was allegedly harassed by Simpson-Marcus. According to the lawsuit, Gilbert-Thomas allegedly only pretended to advocate for the white, male teacher because she was attempting to recruit Simpson-Marcus to join Gilbert-Thomas’ home-based communication business.

Chapman said he expects a response from the school system in mid-December, about 20 days after the lawsuit was filed.

Donald Briscoe, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, did not immediate returns calls or e-mails for comment Monday.

eskalski@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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