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

Posted at  04:55 PM ET, 04/24/2012

TheWashingtonPost

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

www.baclaw.com