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