After a year, a federal lawsuit accusing Harford County’s Public Schools of discriminating against and demoting four Black female assistant principals without due process may be reaching a conclusion.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Sullivan ordered a pretrial settlement conference to be held May 16. If the lawsuit is not resolved, the case will proceed to a jury trial, according to attorney Corlie McCormick, a civil rights lawyer based in Crofton, who is representing the former county schools employees.
Robyn Bomar, Letina Hall, Jonise Stallings and Shakera Adkins are seeking back pay, front pay and compensatory, general and punitive damages, according to a complaint filed April 6, 2021 in federal court.
In the original lawsuit, they requested a jury trial, naming the school system, Superintendent Sean Bulson and Stacey Gerringer, president of the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County, as defendants. Gerringer was dismissed as a defendant with prejudice from the lawsuit in July 2021.
On Feb. 7, the court ordered a settlement conference before the trial, a formal process used by the court to encourage the parties to settle before a trial.
According to court documents filed by the plaintiffs, in Dec. 2018, county public school assistant principals were told they would have to reapply for their positions because of a $35 million budget deficient and that some would be demoted.
Bomar, Hall, Stallings and Adkins were the only four assistant principals demoted, and all were replaced by white candidates, who were less qualified, according to the complaint.
Five Black women reapplied for their assistant principal jobs and all but one were denied, the complaint states. Meanwhile, five white assistant principals were denied out of the 79 who reapplied for their positions, and eight white female applicants with no prior experience as assistant principals were promoted to those positions.
Assistant principal assignments are chosen by the superintendent, according to the complaint. Additionally, Hall was told that a new process allowed principals to “get rid” of administrators they disliked, according to the complaint.
“On Dec. 14, 2018, Letina Hall was informed by an HCPS Principal that Ms. Bomar would not be selected for an Assistant Principal position because it ‘was personal, and that [Ms. Bomar] has to go,’” the complaint states.
As the pretrial settlement approaches, attorneys representing HCPS and a spokesperson for the school system declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The Aegis: Top stories
McCormick would not say how much his legal fees were for the women, citing confidentiality. Federal employment discrimination litigation typically includes a single plaintiff and a single defendant, each of whom are represented by a single private attorney on average cost a defendant about $100,000 through the summary judgment stage, according to McCormick. But, those costs typically increase when additional parties and additional counsel are added, according to McCormick.
McCormick estimates litigation costs will exceed $100,000 for the defendants, including the Board of Education and Sean Bulson, through the summary judgment stage and perhaps tens of thousands more if the matter is tried while these costs would likely accrue in litigation whether the school board wins or loses.
“In the event the school board is unsuccessful at trial, a jury could potentially award the assistant principals millions of dollars for the school board’s discriminatory and retaliatory acts,” McCormick said. “If the school board and Dr. Bulson fail to settle early, it could be very costly to the school board.”
Leaders from the NAACP and the Harford County’s Caucus of African American Leaders demanded action on the case during public comments at the most recent school board meeting on April 25.
When reached for comment, Vicki Jones, president of the Harford County branch of the NAACP, said she was unable to comment about the details of the case or the NAACP’s involvement. However, she said that since the seminal Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, the NAACP historically has fought to ensure that diversity and equity are an integral part of our public education system.
Harford County’s Caucus of African-American Leaders is continuing to fight for a “good faith” negotiation between the four principals and the Board of Education, said its chairman, James Thornton.
“The Harford County Caucus of African American Leaders continues to be dismayed by the actions of Superintendent Bulson and Board of Education in their failure to resolve this lawsuit in a fair and equitable manner,” Thornton said. “Four African American females were wronged by their action. They need to stop wasting taxpayers money and negotiate in good faith to make these former administrators whole. We continue to fight for justice on their behalf.”
The previous version of this article omitted the dismissal of defendant Stacey Gerringer from the lawsuit with prejudice. It also has been corrected to show that Gerringer is the current president of the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County. The Aegis regrets the errors.