Lawsuit proceeds

Published 9:53 am Thursday, December 10, 2015

GATESVILLE – A discrimination lawsuit against Gates County Public Schools will proceed.

The legal action, filed in April by Mary Felton, has been tied up in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina prior to Senior U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt ruling in late October against a motion filed on behalf of the school system to dismiss Felton’s complaint.

In an email sent by Felton last week to this newspaper, she said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “found in my favor regarding alleged retaliation (by Gates County Schools) because I participated in a protective activity.”

“At the time of the alleged retaliation, I held license to serve as a Superintendent, Principal, Curriculum Instructional Specialist as well as a Teacher in the State in North Carolina. My performance evaluations indicated I always met or exceeded expectations. Therefore, I was left believing the only reasonable expectation for screening me out for employment opportunities after becoming aware of my participation in a protective activity was in retaliation because I participated in a protective activity.”

When asked the meaning of the protective activity, Felton referred this newspaper to vague EEOC guidelines.

However, within another document Felton sent – this one dated Nov. 27, 2013 from the EEOC office in Norfolk, VA – it states that Felton was “denied the opportunity to interview and be hired for the positions of Principal and Director of Elementary Education on or about April 25, 2012 due to protected activity.”

That letter went on to state that the respondent (Gates County Schools), “denies the allegations and contends that the charging party (Felton) was not granted an interview because she was not considered as one of the most qualified of the external, non-residential applicants.”

The EEOC determined after reviewing evidence that the, “Respondent did not evenly apply its practice of excluding non-resident applicants from interview, thus denying the charging party the opportunity to be hired.”

With that statement, it is believed that the protective activity in this case is apparently tied to Gates County Schools alleged practice of not granting interviews to non-county residents.

Gates County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams was given an opportunity to address the lawsuit.

“The Gates County Board of Education denies Ms. Felton’s claims. The Board has not discriminated or retaliated against her in any way. It is the policy of Gates County Schools to prohibit unlawful discrimination or retaliation against any qualified individual. Because this matter is currently in litigation it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on it,” Dr. Williams stated.

Meanwhile, Felton claims she interviewed five years ago for a position within Gates County Public Schools.

“Prior to finding out about my participating in a protective activity, in February 2010 I was interviewed for the position of Assistant Superintendent for Gates County Schools. The interview for Assistant Superintendent reveals my qualifications met or exceeded lower level school administration positions,” Felton said.

Felton added that after the EEOC found in her favor they offered Gates County Schools a conciliation opportunity to resolve the matter. She said that offer was declined.

“Prior to filing the lawsuit in Federal Court, in a good faith effort, I attempted several times to resolve the matter out of court, but the defendant repeatedly declined,” Felton remarked.

When asked how many attempts were made to settle this legal action out of court, Felton replied, “According to my records I offered the defendant five or more opportunities to resolve this matter. In addition to agreeing to resolving the matter with EEOC, I contacted the defendant’s attorney on four or more different occasions, including but not limited to March 5, 2015, March 17, 2015, March 19, 2015 and March 24, 2015. I even included a request for a proposed offer the defendant believed was reasonable. I never received the requested proposed offer from the defendant.”

When asked what type of damages she was seeking in the lawsuit, Felton responded by saying, “I requested a jury trial and I will continue to request that the court grants judgment against the defendant awarding me appropriate relief necessary to make me whole as a result of civil rights violation described in the lawsuit.”

Felton said she is currently a PhD candidate at the dissertation stage in the area of Educational Leadership and that she continues to hold license in the areas stated earlier in this story.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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