Veteran Phila. teacher sues school district for wrongful termination

By Jon Campisi | Mar 26, 2012

A veteran teacher at a city high school who claims he was terminated after three decades of employment for discriminatory reasons has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Philadelphia School District.

Bensalem, Pa. attorney Ari R. Karpf filed the civil action March 21 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Elkins Park, Pa. resident John Volk.

The complaint alleges that Volk, 65, who began working for the district in 1979, was terminated from his teaching position at Martin Luther King High School in April 2011 after a series of disagreements with his principal, who the plaintiff alleges discriminated against him on numerous occasions allegedly due to his age and gender.

“Plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment and denied privileges/benefits based upon his age and gender, and he was terminated in retaliation for his complaints of discrimination,” the lawsuit states.

During the last several years of his employment, the suit states, Volk experienced “disparate and negative treatment” at his job, primarily by the high school’s principal, Kristina Diviny.

Examples of the treatment included the principal diverting awards to younger female employees, improperly awarding positions to less qualified younger female applicants instead of Volk, replacing Volk as a student chaperone with a younger female employee, removing Volk as a class sponsor and harassing Volk but not younger female teachers.

In late February 2010, Volk was accused of penning a threatening letter to his principal, an act Volk dismissed as a misunderstanding; the letter was not designed to be threatening, but rather was meant to “bury the hatchet” with his supervisor, the suit states.

“Plaintiff had made prior complaints of age and gender discrimination, and it should have been evident to any reader of Plaintiff’s letter from Defendant’s administration that he was referring to taking legal action based upon his prior complaints of age and general discrimination,” the lawsuit states.

Nevertheless, an assistant regional superintendent, identified in the lawsuit as Sherry Gross, allegedly undertook an investigation into the letter-writing situation.

The suit claims that Gross should have recused herself from the situation, however, since she and Diviny had a close relationship.

By early April 2010, the suit claims, Volk was denied access to certain information on the school district’s computer system, and Volk subsequently made written complaints of discrimination to school district administrators.

Volk was recommended for termination in October 2010; the proposed termination was upheld following a meeting regarding the matter the following month.

Volk was fired the following spring.

The lawsuit accuses the school district of violating the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

The suit contains counts of discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment.

Volk seeks to have the district prohibited from continuing its illegal policy of discriminating and retaliating against employees. He also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, litigation costs and other legal and equitable relief.

Volk has demanded a trial by jury.


The federal case number is 2:12-cv-01432-TJS. 

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