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.

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