Washington Post: Maryland principal accused of bullying members of her staff

Maryland principal accused of bullying members of her staff

By Ovetta Wiggins September 12 at 7:43 PM 

When a Prince George’s County high school launched an anti-bullying campaign four years ago, students pledged to support anyone being harassed, to report instances of bullying and to treat others with respect.

But former Largo High School employees allege that while the students were learning how to create a friendly environment, one of the worst bullies was the school’s principal.

In interviews and in legal actions filed against Principal Angelique Simpson-Marcus, the former employees said that Simpson-Marcus routinely belittled and berated staff, derided teachers and secretaries and made inappropriate comments about white teachers. Simpson-Marcus, who is black, continues to run the 1,100-student school in Upper Marlboro.

The Board of Education defends Simpson-Marcus as an effective school leader, a school system spokeswoman said.

The alleged ill treatment at the school has resulted in multiple lawsuits against the Prince George’s school system. One discrimination case was decided last month when a U.S. District Court jury awarded a former English teacher $350,000. Another lawsuit is slated to begin Tuesday and a third is pending.

Several black teachers said they were told by Simpson-Marcus not to associate with the white teacher, Jon Everhart. When they did, they said, they also became targets.

“She was pushing for the kids to be kind to one another and I just thought, ‘How could you say that?’ and, ‘You are a bully?” said Venida Marshall, a former English teacher who is black and is one of 10 employees who made allegations of harassment in a 2010 lawsuit against the school system. She refused to adhere to Simpson-Marcus’s order not to have lunch with Everhart. “I thought it was a travesty,” she said.

A judge instructed plaintiffs in the joint 2010 lawsuit to file separate cases, said Bryan Chapman, Everhart’s attorney, who filed the joint lawsuit. Many of those cases were dismissed because employees did not file timely Equal Employment Opportunity complaints or because their complains were not based on discrimination; two of the remaining cases are scheduled for trial.

Simpson-Marcus declined this week to comment on the allegations, referring questions to Keesha Bullock, a school system spokeswoman. Bullock said the Board of Education has filed a motion to set aside the verdict in Everhart’s case.

In court papers, the school system calls Everhart a “failure as a teacher,” explaining that he was fired for a “legitimate non-retaliatory reason.”

“We believe the allegations against Ms. Simpson-Marcus are false, and to that end the Board of Education is vigorously defending against them in court,” Bullock wrote in an e-mail. “Ms. Simpson-Marcus has made great contributions to Largo High School and the education community in the D.C.-area for almost 10 years. Some of the best successes at Largo High School occurred under her leadership.”

Later this month, the school system heads back to court to defend against the 2010 allegations, which also focus on claims that the Largo High principal harassed staff members.

Several former employees said they were upset to learn that the principal remains at the school despite the jury’s findings in Everhart’s case. Simpson-Marcus started her seventh year as principal when school opened for classes two weeks ago.

Tracy Allison, a secretary who worked in Simpson-Marcus’s office, said she was harassed because she showed respect to Everhart, who the principal allegedly called “poor white trash,” and to another white teacher who Simpson-Marcus referred to as “Bozo.”

According to Allison’s lawsuit — which is scheduled to be heard beginning Tuesday — Simpson-Marcus retaliated against her by calling her “chicken head, bird, hood rat and ghetto.”

After Allison complained to Simpson-Marcus’s supervisor, the harassment continued, causing Allison stress and panic attacks, according to the lawsuit. She transferred to another school in August 2010.

In his lawsuit, Everhart alleged that Simpson-Marcus, who was working as a physical education teacher at the school in 2003, told students that “the only reason a white man teaches in PG County is that they can’t get a job elsewhere.”

He filed a discrimination claim against Simpson-Marcus to the teachers’ union. He said she then targeted him, telling him if she ever became principal, he would be the first person she would fire. When she returned to the school in 2007 as the principal, Everhart said Simpson-Marcus told his students and their parents that he “was a bad teacher . . . poor white trash . . . and would be fired,” according to his lawsuit.

Before Simpson-Marcus became principal, Everhart received stellar evaluations, according to his lawsuit. After she took over, his performance evaluations were unsatisfactory.

The jury ruled in Everhart’s favor on the discrimination claim but it sided with the county school board on Everhart’s claim of a hostile work environment. Everhart’s attorney has requested a partial new trial regarding the finding on the hostile work environment claim.

Simpson-Marcus said in a previous interview that the allegations are baseless. She declined to comment on the reason for Everhart’s termination, but said the complaints of ill treatment and retaliation were “unfounded.”

“I never said any of those things,” Simpson-Marcus said in an interview after the court decision in August. “I don’t use that kind of language.”

Some of Everhart’s former colleagues said Simpson-Marcus transferred Everhart to an unruly ninth-grade class and told the students that if he failed them their grades would be changed.

Bullock said she could not comment on specific allegations made against the principal because “our policy is to not comment on any ongoing or pending litigation.”

Vallie Dean, a former business education teacher, said the principal liked to embarrass Everhart.

“She would get on the [school-wide public address] system and say, ‘Mr. Everhart, report to Principal Simpson-Marcus’s office,’ ” Dean said. She said students in her class would laugh and talk about how Everhart, who was once named the school’s Teacher of the Year, was going to be fired.

Dean said she and others complained to supervisors but they received no help.

“She would say, ‘I’m the principal of Largo High School,’ ” Dean said. “It was like she had carte blanche to do whatever she wanted to whoever she wanted without any consequences.”

Meanwhile, those who came to Everhart’s defense said they were ostracized.

“I was just sad,” Marshall said. “People wouldn’t sit next to me. I had to wind up accepting my colleagues didn’t want to be targets, too.”

Washington Post: White teacher wins $350,000 in Prince George’s schools bia lawsuit.

August 8 at 4:33 PM 

A former Prince George’s County teacher won a $350,000 jury award after accusing the school system of discriminating against him because he is white.

Jon Everhart alleged in his lawsuit against the Prince George’s County school board that a black principal forced him out of his job because of his race.

“Justice was served,” Everhart said. “I do feel as though I have been vindicated.”

Everhart, 65, speaking by phone from Ohio after the verdict in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, said he faced years of racial harassment from the Largo High School principal, who he said repeatedly told staffers and students that she planned to fire him.

“She called me ‘poor white trash’ and ‘white b—-,’ ” Everhart said of the principal, Angelique Simpson-Marcus, who leads the 1,100-student school in Upper Marlboro. “Her behavior was so outlandish.”

Simpson-Marcus said in an interview that the allegations are baseless. She declined to comment on the reason for Everhart’s termination, but she said the complaints of ill treatment and retaliation were “unfounded.”

“I never said any of those things,” she said. “I don’t use that kind of language.”

Max Pugh, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County school system, said he could not comment on the case because the litigation is ongoing; the school system has 30 days to respond to the judge’s order and could file an appeal.

Everhart sued in 2010 after he was fired, and he was one of several Largo High School employees who made allegations of harassment. Some who filed lawsuits said they were mistreated for vocally supporting Everhart.

Bryan Chapman, Everhart’s attorney, argued that the Board of Education violated the Civil Rights Act, which says organizations receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. There is no cap in potential damages in such cases; Everhart originally sought $5 million.

The jury sided with Everhart on the discrimination claim, but it found in favor of the county school board on Everhart’s claim of a hostile work environment.

Everhart’s award is for compensatory damages. He said he has suffered from high blood pressure and heart problems as a result of his treatment at Largo.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte will later decide how much Everhart should receive in back pay and benefits. The school system has 30 days to show why Everhart should not receive retirement and health benefits and why his teaching certificate, which was revoked when he was fired, should not be restored.

Everhart, a former Baltimore city teacher, was hired by Prince George’s in 2003 and was assigned to teach English at Largo. At that time, Simpson-Marcus was a physical education teacher.

Everhart said Simpson-Marcus told students that the “only reason a white teacher teaches in P. G. County is that they can’t get a job elsewhere.” He filed a union grievance against her and said she told him that if she ever became principal, he would be the first person she would fire.

Chapman said that when Simpson-Marcus returned to Largo as its principal, Everhart, who was once named the school’s Teacher of the Year and who received stellar evaluations, started to receive unsatisfactory performance evaluations.

Everhart said he was removed from teaching honors English to juniors and seniors — classes in which he was popular — and was placed in a freshman class, where Simpson-Marcus allegedly told students that Everhart was going to lose his job.

Chapman said that Everhart filed complaints but that they were often ignored. He tried to get transferred to another high school, but the effort was blocked, Chapman said. There was never a school system investigation of the matter, Chapman and Everhart said.

“I just think it was a disgrace, and I think that’s what the jury saw, too,” Chapman said.

 

 

 

Washington Post’s Blog: Paperwork piles up in Prince George’s teacher discrimination cases

Posted at  05:56 PM ET, 11/01/2011

Paperwork piles up in Pr. Geo’s teacher discrimination cases

Is there something systemically wrong with the way Prince George’s school system is training its leaders?

That’s the case attorney Bryan Chapman has been trying to make for nearly a year, through flooding the district courts with lawsuits against the school board alleging that the principals and other supervisors have run amok.

He is representing angry employees, of the past and present, who claim discrimination for being a woman, or white, or African, or a light-skinned  African American. The school system has denied all the accusations.

The judge already dismissed the idea of filing one case that encompasses all the complaints. By August, Chapman had filed lawsuits on behalf of 16 staff members, alleging the system violated the Civil Rights Act. Since then, he’s filed four more. Four of the cases have been heard in the federal district court in Greenbelt over the past two weeks, the most recent on Monday.

Three of the four cases have been dismissed, with Judge Peter J. Messitte instructing Chapman to add more detail to his lawsuits.

So far, both the school system and Chapman are voicing confidence they will succeed. Here are their perspectives in a debate that threatens to cost the system millions:

Chapman’s view: Typically, employee discrimination cases are filed under a part of the Civil Rights Act that caps damages at $300,000. Chapman’s biggest victory so far is that the judge has not yet thrown out the idea that the system’s acceptance of federal stimulus dollars in 2008 allows for them to be sued under a different statute of the Civil Rights Acts, giving clients the ability to seek damages beyond $300,000.

Chapman is also relieved that the judge has not yet dismissed the cases outright, but rather given the option to file them again, with amendments.  That means there’s still an opportunity for his clients to reap big dividends from the struggling system — most are asking for damages in the range of $5 million to $10 million.

School system’s perspective:Abbey G. Hairston is representing the school board. She’s arguing that the judge’s call for Chapman to refashion the lawsuits only proves the cases are shaky.

Chapman has already refiled two of the four cases that have been heard so far, and Hairston plans to argue that those cases should be dismissed as well.

As for the 13 cases waiting to be heard, she’ll be making a similar argument that they are poorly constructed and are based on improper interpretation of the Civil Rights Act. She is also arguing that the clog of paperwork will ultimately damage a financially fragile school system by forcing it to spend money that could be used in classrooms.

// By | 05:56 PM ET, 11/01/2011