Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Teacher Wins Age and Sexual Discrimination Lawsuit

Back to my series of posts on Pittsburgh Employment Discrimination Law and wrongful terminations I think it's worthwhile to consider the facts of Weber vs. Moon Area School District, et al. a Western District of Pennsylvania case that was decided in 2003.

This action was filed by a 52-year-old Weber, a female high school science teacher against the Moon Area School District, its superintendent and several high school administrators. The plaintiff alleged, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (42 USCA Section 1983) and the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, that she was terminated from her position on the basis of her age, sex and Mexican descent. The plaintiff also contended that she was retaliated against by the defendants for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was denied due process of law and that the defendants damaged her reputation.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff's termination was justified by poor job performance and her failure to maintain control of the classrooms.

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant school district from August 1989, until she was fired in January, 1990. At the time of her termination, the plaintiff was designated a "permanent substitute" teaching science at the district's high school. The plaintiff contended that "permanent substitutes" were full-time employees who had all the duties of the teaching staff, yet received a lower salary than the teaching staff. All of the "permanent substitutes" were women, according to the plaintiff's evidence. The plaintiff also argued that her classes had a greater number of learning disabled children and that she was required to work in worse physical conditions than the other teachers at the high school. The plaintiff introduced evidence that a male teacher had not been fired after receiving an unsatisfactory evaluation rating. Yet, the plaintiff was terminated after receiving such a rating. The plaintiff also contended that her unsatisfactory rating was not justified. Several of the plaintiff's former students testified that the plaintiff was a good science teacher. The plaintiff claimed that she did not want to teach Spanish, yet her science class was placed in a former Spanish language room with Spanish decor. The plaintiff received an unsatisfactory employment evaluation and was terminated the same day. A representative of the Moon Area Education Association testified that the union contract gives teachers the right to challenge unsatisfactory evaluations and that teachers must have two unsatisfactory evaluations in a row before they are terminated. The plaintiff, who had a masters degree and extensive teaching experience, introduced evidence that she was replaced first with a 65-year-old female, then with a 23-year-old recent female college graduate and, finally, with a 34-year-old female teacher with less teaching experience than the plaintiff. After her termination, the plaintiff testified that she filed a complaint against the defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and obtained a summer job teaching through a local community college. Her supervisor at the community college testified that the defendant superintendent called him and advised him not to hire the plaintiff to work in the high school building from where she was terminated. The plaintiff contended that the phone call was made in retaliation for her filing of the EEOC complaint. Instead of teaching two classes at the local community college as planned, the plaintiff testified that she taught only one class through the summer at another location. The plaintiff then returned to a teaching position in a Catholic school where she earned a salary lower than she earned in the defendant school district. The plaintiff's CPA testified that the plaintiff sustained an economic loss of approximately $ 400,000, based on a work life to age 70, as a result of the termination. The plaintiff also claimed emotional damage, including inability to sleep and weight loss.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff was retained to take the place of a teacher on sabbatical leave and was not a union employee. Whomever was hired to take the place of the teacher on sabbatical would have gotten the same proportion of learning disabled children and the same physical conditions due to on- going construction at the school, regardless of age, sex or ethnic background, according to defense arguments. The defendant further contended that the plaintiff lacked teaching skills and could not maintain classroom discipline. The defendant claimed that numerous complaints had been received from students, parents and other teachers concerning a lack of control in the plaintiff's classes. The assistant principal of the high school where the plaintiff taught testified that he first observed the plaintiff's classes in October, 1989, and found them to be out of control. Because of continuing complaints, the plaintiff's classes were observed again in November, 1989, and found to be so out of hand that the assistant principal had to physically remove a student, according to his testimony. The defendant contended that conditions became progressively worse, complaints continued and the plaintiff was terminated after a number of specific instances and an unsatisfactory employment evaluation in January, 1990. The defendant also argued that, after her termination, the plaintiff received two job offers from public schools which paid a salary equal to or greater than that paid by the defendant school system, but that the plaintiff had turned down the job offers and returned to teach at a Catholic school. The jury found for the plaintiff on due process, sexual discrimination and age discrimination counts. The plaintiff was awarded $ 550,000 which included $ 250,000 in lost wages; $ 100,000 for emotional damages and $ 200,000 for damage to reputation. The jury rejected the plaintiff's claim of racial discrimination. Post-trial motions are pending on whether the award for lost wages should be doubled pursuant to the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The plaintiff prevailed in this civil rights action by introducing specific evidence for each of her allegations including sexual discrimination, age discrimination and a due process violation. It was established that all of the plaintiff's replacements were females and a comparison was presented of the physical conditions, salaries, and class makeup of the male and female teachers in the district. The plaintiff was also able to focus on a particular male teacher who had received an unsatisfactory employment rating, yet was still working for the district. The defendant countered that this individual was a 22 year tenured teacher while the plaintiff was a part-time worker without tenure and that her status justified the termination on her first unsatisfactory rating. The plaintiff, who was the wife of an air force officer, portrayed her human side by detailing the effect that the termination has had on her life, including weight loss and insomnia. The plaintiff also relayed her return to teaching at a Catholic school at a lower salary amidst rumors that she was fired from the public school system for incompetence.

If you have been subjected to improper treatment at work based on your age, race or sex, contact a civil rights lawyer to learn about your options.  Also, always make sure to keep detailed records to document all of the disparate treatment.  Please read some of my other articles on employment discrimination law and wrongful terminations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Punitives For Woman Fired While on Maternity LeaveWrongful Discharge for Filing Complaints of Sexual Harassment, Job Discrimination Laws Available to Pittsburghers, and many others. Share this post :
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