Lawsuit times two

Published 2:40 pm Monday, December 28, 2015

It now appears that Mary E. Felton’s discrimination lawsuit filed against the Gates County Board of Education is not the first time she has sought legal action against a public school system.

As recently reported in this newspaper, Felton is proceeding with the lawsuit. In an e-mail to this newspaper, Felton 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.”

The EEOC office in Norfolk, VA states that Felton was “denied the opportunity to interview and be hired for the positions of Principal and Director of Elementary Education (in Gates County) 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.”

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.

Within the document Felton supplied to this newspaper, the Norfolk EEOC office wrote, “Evidence shows that the Charging Party (Felton) had filed previous charges (with EEOC) against Edenton-Chowan Schools, alleging race discrimination and retaliation.”

Online research by Roanoke-Chowan Publications turned up a May 12, 2014 story, authored by Reggie Ponder of the Daily Advance in Elizabeth City. That article said the Edenton-Chowan Board of Education reached a settlement with a former school administrator in her federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district.

“Neither school officials nor Mary E. Felton, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, would discuss the terms of the settlement,” Ponder wrote.

However, as Ponder pointed out, “a copy of the settlement indicates Felton’s lawsuit was ‘dismissed with prejudice,’, meaning she cannot file another lawsuit on the same grounds, and both she and the school district will have to pay their own legal fees in the matter.”

Ponder wrote that Felton had alleged she was the victim of racial discrimination, claiming the Edenton-Chowan Schools failed to promote her because she is black.

The article stated that Felton was working as an assistant principal at John A. Holmes High School when she applied for the principal’s job. Felton wasn’t selected for the principal’s job and later she was assigned to work as a guidance counselor at Chowan Middle School. Felton claimed that she opposed the assignment to Chowan Middle School, and after she refused to obtain the necessary credentials for the job, the school district first suspended her and then fired her.

The Daily Advance article went on to say that Felton would go on to file six civil lawsuits, each alleging her failure to win promotion to principal and her later demotion to guidance counselor were based on her race. After all six lawsuits were dismissed, Felton filed a federal civil rights complaint in July 2012, again alleging she had been the victim of racial discrimination.

Prior to filing her civil rights complaint, the EEOC ruled in December 2011 that the Edenton-Chowan Schools discriminated against Felton when it demoted her. School officials argued that the EEOC finding was inaccurate.

In her federal lawsuit, Felton alleged the Edenton-Chowan school district demoted her after she filed a complaint with the EEOC.

Gates County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams briefly addressed Felton’s lawsuit against the school board there.

“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.

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.

email author More by Cal