The lawyer representing three former educators and one former student at Bailey’s Elementary School in Falls Church in a federal discrimination lawsuit against Bailey’s Principal Marie Lemmon and the Fairfax County school system filed new documents on Wednesday to bolster the plaintiffs’ discrimination claims.
The new filings, a complaint amending the one originally filed in late September, include five affidavits from former and current employees in the Fairfax County school system that they were also discriminated against and treated harshly by the school system or Lemmon.
The new complaint also amended the accused in the lawsuit. Originally, the lawsuit was brought against Lemmon and Fairfax County Public Schools.
But after lawyers for the school system filed a motion to dismiss the case in late October claiming, among other things, that Fairfax County Public School was not an actual entity that could be sued – because it was just a shorthand for the Fairfax County School Board – the lawyer for the plaintiffs amended the complaint to accuse Lemmon and the Fairfax County School Board.
The educators and the student are alleging that they experienced religious, racial, gender and disability discrimination under Lemmon, who was appointed as Bailey’s Principal just over two years ago. Now, the plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the Fairfax County School Board and Lemmon.
Rachel Charlton, who is Jewish, claims that Lemmon discriminated against her while she was an assistant principal at Bailey’s because of her religious beliefs and treated her with hostility during and after her pregnancy. This treatment allegedly included diminishing her work responsibilities and berating Charlton for the self-care she required and employed because of disabilities resulting from her pregnancy.
Yolanda Calhoun and Shyrone Stith, a former math teacher and a former instructional assistant at Bailey’s, respectively, claim that Lemmon discriminated against them because they are Black. Calhoun claims that she was fired and replaced by a less experienced White teacher and Stith claims that he was passed over for a teaching job he applied for in favor a less experienced White applicant.
The student is claiming that she was forced out of the Bailey’s Elementary on the basis of race after Calhoun, her stepmother, was fired even though there was a precedent of two White students being allowed to stay at the school after their parents were no longer on staff.
Bailey’s Elementary is the largest elementary school in Fairfax County with nearly 1,400 students. The school receives federal Title I funding because of its large population of poor students.
The documents filed on Wednesday in the U.S. Eastern District Court in Alexandria claim that the school system ignored discrimination claims against Lemmon that date to 2007.
“They brought up things that they thought were weak points in our case,” said Krista Goelz, the plaintiff’s attorney. “And we said okay, we’ll make those points stronger.” A spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools said that it’s the school system’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Four of the five affidavits were from teachers that worked under Lemmon.
There is Robin Rubio, a former reading specialist and Spanish teacher who retired from the Fairfax County public school system in August after working for them for 24 years. Rubio claims that Lemmon discriminated against her on the basis of age and race when she taught under Lemmon at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in 2007. “Marie Lemmon was routinely condescending and rude,” Rubio wrote in her affidavit. “She was negative and critical and made unreasonable demands, considering I was working at three schools and on a tight schedule.”
Rose Vincent, a 49-year-old Hispanic and Native American woman who currently works at Bailey’s Elementary as an instructional assistant, wrote that Lemmon discriminated against her on the basis of age, race and her association with someone who is disabled.
Vincent, who is primary caretaker for her disabled husband, said that she “subject to repeated harassment and threats to [her] employment” since Lemmon took over as Principal at Bailey’s. Vincent also claimed that she filed a grievance regarding her experience with Lemmon in August 2013, but that her concerns had not been addressed or answered.
Sharon Baumgartner, a former teacher at Bailey’s Elementary, wrote that she saw Lemmon say to the staff at a staff meeting that if “you are going to get married or have babies, do it on your own time during the summer.” She also wrote that Lemmon coerced her to leave the school voluntarily.
“She said if I stayed she would write things in my file which would make it difficult for me to get a job in the future,” Baumgartner wrote in her affidavit. “I decided to immediately leave Bailey’s Elementary out of fear that I would become unemployable.”
The fourth affidavit from a former educator under Lemmon’s employ came from Kathi Newman, a 45-year old mother of a child with a disability who is also Jewish. Newman wrote that Lemmon discriminated against her on the basis of her age, ethnicity, relationship to a person with a disability and religion.
Newman had been a speech pathologist for three years when Lemmon took over as Principal. “Every year, I provided a brief instruction to students on the Jewish faith during the holiday season,” Newman wrote. “Once Marie Lemmon became principal she absolutely forbid me to teach the cultural awareness class.”
According to Newman’s affidavit, Lemmon later told Newman that her position would not be renewed the following year because she wanted a full-time employee even though Newman explained that the number of students needing special education speech services determines the number of hour the speech pathologist works. Newman wrote that Bailey’s did not have enough children at the time to require a full-time speech pathologist.
Newman wrote that she was replaced by “a young woman, straight of schooling, who had not finished her certifications, who [she] believed has no children and does not identify as Jewish.” According to Newman’s affidavit, her replacement works the same number of hours at Bailey’s as she did previously.
The other affidavit claims racial discrimination by the school system. Michael Penn, a Black man who worked for Fairfax County Public Schools for 25 years in the safety and security office before retiring recently, wrote that he was discriminated against by the school system on the basis of race. Penn wrote that he was regularly denied promotions while his White, less experienced colleagues were promoted.
“I believe that there is a ‘black ceiling’ at FCPS,” he wrote. “And that racial discrimination is pervasive.”