Settlement reached in case of substitute teacher vs. Lower Merion School District

Jon Campisi Oct. 25, 2011, 1:51pm

A federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District alleging discrimination on the part of a former long-term substitute teacher has been settled.

The suburban school district, which also recently had a racial discrimination lawsuit against it filed by the families of six black students dismissed by a federal judge, announced that it has reached a settlement in an unrelated case, this one Besslindora Goree v. Lower Merion School District.

U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis dismissed the case with prejudice after the settlement was reached.

The lawsuit, filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleged that Goree, who was hired in August 2008 as a long-term substitute to teach business and information technology classes at Harriton High School, was not afforded the same support as white teachers.

Some of the claims in the suit included allegations that she was given larger class sizes than her white counterparts, and that she was not included in a “buddy system” to help her become familiar with district policies and procedures.

Goree, who had relocated from Florida to Pennsylvania to teach in the wealthy suburban Philadelphia school district, experienced widespread success at the district in her short time teaching there, the lawsuit stated, but nevertheless felt as though she was being treated differently than white teachers.

“The School District has also historically had problems with race relations and proper recruitment and retention of minority teachers,” the lawsuit had alleged.

When Goree eventually had the opportunity to be hired on a full-time as a business teacher in the district, she was passed over for the position, which was instead offered to a younger, white teacher with less experience than she, the lawsuit had contended.

In an email exchange Oct. 24, school district spokesman Doug Young confirmed that the district and the plaintiff have reached a settlement.

The agreement, which is subject to school board approval, was reached between Goree and the district’s insurance provider, Young said, and will not involve taxpayer funds, although specifics of the settlement weren’t provided.

“This resolution ensures that the District will retain its preferred candidate for the position,” Young wrote in the email, referring to the woman who was hired instead of the plaintiff. “We felt confident that the case would have been decided in our favor.”

In its motion for summary judgment that had been filed prior to the settlement agreement, the district had argued that Goree offered no substantial proof that she had been discriminated against.

“Plaintiff has simply failed to meet her burden of ‘point[ing] to evidence with sufficient probative force’ that a factfinder could conclude that discrimination was more likely than not the reason for the District’s decision not to hire her,” the motion read. “Plaintiff cannot prevail on summary judgment simply because she ‘feels’ or has a subjective belief that discrimination occurred.”

The original complaint, filed in May 2010, contained counts of discrimination on the basis of race, unlawful failure to hire, and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Goree had sought compensation for lost pay and benefits, as well as damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and job reinstatement.

The suit claimed that had Goree been hired in the full-time position she had sought, she would have been earning more than $87,000 a year plus benefits.

Goree had been represented by Doylestown, Pa. attorneys Steven A. Cotlar and Andrew D. Cotlar.

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