Two teachers in Columbus schools’ gifted-student program sued their bosses in federal court yesterday, saying they’ve been discriminated against because they are white.
The lawsuit primarily is aimed at Toia Robinson, who oversees gifted education in Columbus City Schools and is black. It also names the Columbus Board of Education; district workers who investigate employee complaints; and top-level administrators, including Superintendent Gene Harris and Amy Dennis, who directs special-education and gifted programs.
The suit says that Robinson retaliated against teachers Elizabeth Gasior and Juli Knecht for speaking out about their concerns about the gifted program and Robinson’s treatment of employees.
The teachers seek an unspecified amount of money in compensatory and punitive damages.
No one from the district had seen the lawsuit yesterday and therefore could not comment, Columbus schools spokeswoman Jacqueline Bryant said. Robinson did not return a phone call.
Gasior and Knecht declined to comment. Their attorney, Michael G. Moore, said they had tried to resolve the issues outside of court.
“What the administration has attempted to do throughout the course of this is paint this as some sort of personal disagreement. It’s not that at all,” Moore said.
Since taking the job for the 2009-10 school year, Robinson has created “a hostile, abusive and intimidating work environment,” the suit says.
Gasior filed a discrimination complaint with the board at the end of last school year. The lawsuit says the employee-relations team did not fully investigate and instead lodged complaints against Gasior, calling her unprofessional. A disciplinary notice was placed in Gasior’s file that described her as “divisive, confrontational and antagonistic.”
The disciplinary notice ordered Gasior to stop rolling her eyes, sighing or frowning, or she could be fired, the lawsuit says.
Witness statements that supported Gasior’s accounts of retaliation were removed from official files, Moore said.
Knecht interviewed for a job as a regional gifted coordinator and was recommended by a job panel but didn’t get it, the suit says, because Robinson chose someone else.
“Robinson had removed her name and replaced it with that of an African-American who had not been included in the rankings of the interview panel,” the suit says.
The employee-relations workers — DeWayne Howard, Dianne McLinn and Regina Brantley — are black, the suit says, and helped Robinson discriminate against the two white employees.
Robinson, under advice from both Dennis, who is white, and Howard, later altered records to indicate that the black employee she hired had been recommended by the interview panel, the suit says.
By Jennifer Smith Richards - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services