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Federal lawsuit filed against Harford schools alleges four Black educators were unlawfully demoted, discriminated against By James Whitlow

Four Black, female former assistant principals of Harford County Public Schools have filed a federal lawsuit against the school system, the superintendent and the former president of the administrators’ union, alleging they were discriminated against and demoted without due process.

The plaintiffs — Robyn Bomar, Letina Hall, Jonise Stallings and Shakera Adkins — are seeking backpay, front pay and compensatory, general and punitive damages, amongside other remedies, according to a complaint filed April 6 in federal court. They have requested a jury trial, naming HCPS, Superintendent Sean Bulson and former president of the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County Stacey Gerringer as defendants.

HCPS spokesperson Jillian Lader declined to comment on the lawsuit, but in a court filing, the board of education broadly denied the accusations laid out in the complaint and asked that the suit be dismissed. Bulson and Gerringer have also filed motions to dismiss. Gerringer’s attorney, Thomas Dolina, declined to comment.

Ultimately, the four Black women were demoted and replaced with white candidates who were less qualified, according to the documents. “In April 2019, despite Plaintiffs’ exceptional performance, HCPS selectively demoted Plaintiffs based on their race (African American) and sex (female) rather than their past

In December 2018, HCPS assistant principals were told they would have to reapply for their positions in the face of an approximately $35 million budget deficit and that some would be demoted, the complaint states. All told, 26 administrative positions, including assistant principals, would be eliminated, and other administrative staff would be allowed to apply for assistant principal positions.

Five Black women reapplied for their assistant principal jobs, and all but one were denied, the complaint states. Five white assistant principals were denied out of the 79 who reapplied for their positions, and eight white women with no assistant principal experience were promoted. According to the complaint, assistant principal assignments are ultimately decided by the superintendent. The process by which the assistant principals were demoted was not in line with the established formula, the complaint maintains. Under an amended plan, school principals were allowed to make a shortlist of assistant principals they wished to retain — with the first selection guaranteed to be safe from demotion. Though Bomar’s name was placed first on one such list, HCPS rejected it. In a response filed Wednesday, HCPS denied that claim. Hall was later told that the new process allowed principals to “get rid” of administrators they disliked, according to the complaint. “On December 14, 2018, Letina Hall was informed by an HCPS Principal that Ms. Bomar would not be selected for an Assistant Principal position because it ‘was personal, and that [Ms. Bomar] has to go,’” the complaint states. Bulson met with the Caucus of African American Leaders in April 2019, who told him the decision to demote 80% of the school system’s Black female assistant principals seemed discriminatory. But Bulson said the process was appropriate because it “empowered Principals to render final decisions on the administrators they supervised,” according to the documents.

Previously, principals did not have the authority to select administrators, the complaint states. Around March, after filing charges with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the plaintiffs were given notice of their right to sue, the document states. The suit also alleges that the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors from the four women even though it was defunct and Gerringer, its then-president, knew. It also says she represented herself as being the head of the association, even though it was not permitted to operate in the state of Maryland at the time, accusing her of fraud and misrepresentation.

According to Maryland business records, the association was forfeited in October 2015 and revived April 12, 2021. Gerringer’s attorney did not wish to comment on the case. Additionally, Hall and Adkins maintain that they were retaliated against for their use of leave, despite performing well at work. Hall took medical leave, the complaint states. In a statement, attorney Corlie McCormick Jr., representing the four women, said he was confident that the matter would make it to court against technical legal challenges.

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