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NEW CASTLE HIGH Ex-teacher: Gender bias played role in hire



Published: Sat, July 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The woman's lawsuit claims the district was looking for someone with an 'athletic background' for assistant principal.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A former New Castle High School teacher says she was passed over for a job as an assistant high school principal because she is a woman.

Leanne M. Foster of 315 E. Hazelcroft Ave. recently filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh against the district, school Superintendent Joseph Martin Jr. and six board members.

Her lawsuit claims gender discrimination and that the district retaliated against her because she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Martin, board members and the district's lawyer handling the suit, John Smart of Pittsburgh, were unavailable to comment.

What suit seeks: Foster is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, along with an injunction that would force the district to hire her as an assistant secondary principal, and have her attorney's fees paid by the school district.

She left the district in December 1999 and is now an assistant principal in the Riverside School District in Beaver County, Pa.

Who was hired: She was passed over for an assistant principal position at New Castle High School in June of 1999 when board members hired Brad Ovial and Robert Razzano to fill two positions.

Board members named in the suit are Thomas DiMuccio, Frank Bonfield, Joseph Farris, John Allan Joseph and Peter Yerage. Former board member Mark Mastrangelo is also named.

Board members Larry Nord and Michael Michalojo were not named in the lawsuit because they voted against hiring Ovial and Razzano, said William Cohen, Foster's attorney.

Board member Karen Humphreys also is not named in the suit, even though she did vote in favor of hiring Ovial and Razzano. Cohen said Humphreys questioned the superintendent's recommendations, saying board members were not given time to review them. Cohen said that was sufficient enough not to name her in the lawsuit.

Cohen said Foster's suit claims she has more teaching experience than Razzano, but was passed over because of her gender. She wasn't even given an interview, he said.

Foster taught general science and later general and advanced biology in the district from 1993 to 1999. In spring 1999, she obtained certification as a secondary principal from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Razzano started teaching in the district in 1994, court records show.

Application: The lawsuit contends that district administrators discouraged Foster from applying for the job and, instead, encouraged her to go back to school for her elementary principal certification.

The suit adds that it was made known to Foster by administrators that the district preferred to fill the available positions with someone "with an athletic background, and particularly a background as athletic coaches."

Foster's lawsuit says administrators retaliated against her when she filed a complaint with the EEOC in November 1999. About a month later she turned in her resignation to take the position at Riverside, expecting to stay until the end of the semester, Cohen said.

The lawsuit says, however, that Foster was told she could leave for her new position Dec. 17, 1999, about two days after the district received notification that she had filed the EEOC complaint.

The suit says she was told by New Castle school officials that other districts would be told of her EEOC complaint if she did not withdraw it.

The EEOC ruled in Foster's favor, finding that her claim of gender discrimination was valid.

Cohen said, however, that the EEOC has no means of enforcing its ruling and those matters are then taken to federal court.

The lawsuit claims there were violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law.




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