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COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY Long-time teacher files racial discrimination suit

Published: Thu, February 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.

The teacher was not reinstated after an investigation of alleged abuse.
LISBON -- A $2 million racial discrimination lawsuit has been filed against the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County by a black teacher who taught in the agency's Head Start program for 20 years.
Youngstown attorney Martin S. Hume filed the lawsuit in Youngstown federal court on behalf of Carla E. Crooms, 47, of Clarks Mill Road, Hammondsville, in southern Columbiana County. The lawsuit also names Carol Bretz, executive director of the not-for-profit agency, and Michelle Seidner of Maple Street, Lisbon, whose child was a pupil in the Head Start program.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus.
Bretz said Wednesday she could not comment on pending litigation and referred questions to Cleveland attorney Stephen Zashin. He said the allegations are unfounded and is confident the agency will be vindicated.
Seidner has a nonpublished phone number.
Complaint background
Crooms worked as a Head Start teacher from January 1984 until February 2004. The lawsuit states that Bretz and Seidner falsely and maliciously accused her of abusing a student. It also says she was suspended without pay in February 2004 pending an investigation.
The type of abuse wasn't noted in the lawsuit, and Hume was unavailable to comment. Zashin said it would be inappropriate for him to discuss whatever happened between Crooms and anyone at the agency.
Hume said in court papers that the Ohio Department of Education, Office of Professional Conduct, notified Bretz and the agency in July 2004 that its investigation of Crooms' conduct was closed and no disciplinary action would be taken.
Afterward, the action agency refused to reinstate Crooms and, instead, informed her that she was discharged, Hume said in the lawsuit. The lawyer said Crooms was discriminated against on account of her race, a violation of her right to equal protection under the law.
Plaintiff's request
Hume is asking that Crooms be restored to her teaching job and be awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. He also wants the judge to award attorney fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.
Hume said the agency breached its contractual duties by not providing equitable treatment in its employment decisions, failed to abide by a progressive disciplinary policy and terminated Crooms without just cause. He said the agency also failed to provide an opportunity to contest employment decisions through the grievance process.
The lawyer said in the lawsuit that his client lost earnings, benefits, pension rights and incurred severe emotional distress. He said Bretz and Seidner's comments damaged Crooms' reputation and resulted in her losing her job.
The Community Action Agency of Columbiana County Web site shows that it offers a wide variety of programs, including credit counseling, a health center, family day-care homes, Head Start preschool and day care, Community Action Rural Transit, Home Energy Assistance Program, home repair and senior nutrition.

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