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.

Robert Samuels is a national political reporter who focuses on the intersection of politics, policy and people. He previously covered social issues in the District of Columbia.

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