Richland School District settles discrimination lawsuit

Published: November 18, 2009 08:54 am

By BERNIE HORNICK
The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN - The Richland School District will pay $460,000 to 22 female teachers who claimed in a federal lawsuit that they were the victims of sex discrimination and were due back wages.

The teachers and district filed a joint statement in U.S. District Court in Johnstown asking that the suit be dismissed, The Tribune-Democrat has learned.

While the checks would average $22,900 per teacher, individual payments would vary based on the length of service and the individual circumstances of each teacher. "Somebody might get $2,000; somebody might get $50,000," said Carl Beard of Altoona, the district's attorney.

A breakdown of the individual damages awarded each educator was not available Tuesday.

Samuel Cordes of Pittsburgh - the attorney for the teachers - said that, including attorney's fees and pay scale bumps all the affected teachers will receive, "The total package is probably worth more than $1 million."

"The lesson you take from this is you don't treat men and women different in payment. No less than that," he said.

School Superintendent Tom Fleming said, "There's no admission of guilt on the district's part."

The teachers claimed they were not given proper credit on the salary scale for prior teaching experience outside the district at, for example, out-of-state or Catholic schools. Their male counterparts were hired at a higher pay level, they said.

Fleming said Tuesday that the district was establishing a more cut-and-dried policy.

"We'll have parameters on what is credited and what is not credited when teachers are hired," he said.

The district will pay the settlement out of pocket. "No insurance company covers these types of claims,'' Beard said.

But Fleming said the settlement would not affect tax rates because of advance preparation by the district.

Personnel cuts were made this year through attrition and athletics and other nonessential areas sustained budget cutbacks, Fleming said, "in preparation for how this might play out either in the courts or through a settlement.''

The district did not raise taxes in this school year.

Cordes doesn't sympathize with taxpayers on the bill they now will pay, saying the district has saved for years by underpaying teachers.

"The district has gotten a windfall.

"There's two ways you can look at that," he said. "Has the school board for a long period of time violated the law?"

Beard said the settlement was reached after meetings with the teachers' attorney in Pittsburgh.

Of the settlement, he said, "I don't think anybody is happy with it in the scheme of things. Nobody is ever happy in litigation, (but) you need to let calmer heads prevail."

Fleming agreed.

"It was not an easy decision for the board to make, but they thought it was better to negotiate than go through the courts,'' he said.

"We rolled the dice: We could cut our losses and get a settlement. We put it behind us and are looking forward."

Beard noted that only a few such lawsuits have been litigated in Pennsylvania, but that, "They have had significant impact on those Pittsburgh area school districts. Both sides agreed to come to terms."

Cordes previously has won a total of $2.2 million in a similar action for educators in the Elizabeth Forward School District in Allegheny County.

Teachers who will get a share of the $460,000 are JoAnn Adams, Glenda Dibert, Amy Euen, Emily Garcia, Janet Kulish, Lauren McClemens, Barbara Mallin, Sharon Mish, Kimberly Mock, Rebecca Mollura, Sandra Myers, Lynn Richards, Rose Mary Rifilato, Sarah Riggle, Martha Ringler, Rebecca Sabo-Shriver, Teressa Stefanik, Jena Tully, Holly Vogel, Angela Vukovich, Katie Wilks and Aimee Wyatt.