Bias case appeal being pondered

The Baltimore Sun

The Howard County Board of Education is contemplating whether to appeal a discrimination lawsuit won by a former English teacher at Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

A Howard County jury awarded Michelle Maupin $237,000 in compensatory and punitive damages last week.

The Board of Education is responsible for $225,000 of the damages, while former Centennial High School principal Lynda Mitic must pay $6,000, current English department leader Margaret Polek must pay $5,000, and current principal Scott Pfeifer must pay $1,000.

"Certainly if we do not appeal it, we will pay it promptly," said Mark Blom, the school board's attorney. "We will not make Ms. Maupin go through some enforcement process."

Blom said that the school board as a whole had not yet had the chance to discuss the jury's decision. He said the school board would likely make a decision in the coming weeks.

Blom said Maupin's case is the first successful discrimination lawsuit won by a teacher in the eight years he has been employed by the school system. "I cannot think of another one," he said.

Maupin, who is African-American, contended that problems began shortly after she arrived at Centennial in August 2003. At that time, white parents complained to then-Principal Lynda Mitic about Maupin's teaching style, according to court documents.

Maupin accused Mitic of making racial remarks about her instead of supporting her, according to the documents.

Mitic, who retired Jan. 1, 2004, declined to say whether she planned to appeal the decision when reached yesterday by telephone at her Ellicott City home. "I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time," she said.

Pfeifer and Polek could not be reached for comment.

Maupin also alleged that after she complained about Mitic, she was harassed by colleagues who interrupted her classes, questioned her teaching methods and ignored her at school events.

Maupin's allegations covered a period when Centennial was experiencing racial strife and controversy.

A grade-tampering investigation involving two top African-American administrators resulted in the hiring of Pfeifer as principal. He had been principal at River Hill High School.

In addition, the perception that minorities were not welcomed at Centennial resulted in African American parents meeting with members of the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Maupin, who left Centennial in 2005, teaches at Wilde Lake High School.

"The board has maintained and continues to maintain that no one in the school system did anything to violate the rights of Ms. Maupin or to create a hostile work environment," Blom said, adding that the board has not had the opportunity to review what happened at the school in light of the jury's decision.

"That remains under study," he said.

Neither Maupin nor her lawyer, Mike Coyle, could be reached for comment this week.

After the jury's decision was announced July 3, Coyle said that Maupin "had parents coming in saying, 'I don't think my child can succeed in your class' after only one day of school. These complaints weren't appropriate, and the administration should have stepped up and intervened on her behalf."

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