Art teacher wins school bias case

By Robert Baird
Thursday, July 24, 2003

A federal jury decided Wednesday that the Pine-Richland School District and its former superintendent discriminated against a white art teacher when it gave a black man a newly created position.

The jury deliberated about two hours before awarding Matthew Colaric $23,548 in lost pay plus $5,000 in punitive damages.

"It was everything that we asked for," said Colaric's attorney, Samuel J. Cordes.

Colaric, 42, now a teacher in the Plum School District, said that "it has taken 41/2 years to resolve this issue. I'm satisfied that the jury found in my favor."

The jury found that the district and then-Superintendent George Szymanski based their decision not to hire Colaric on race. He had applied for a half-time art position in 1998.

Szymanski, now the director of educational services at Duquesne University, instead hired Ramon Riley of Braddock, a black teacher. The jury directed that Szymanski pay the punitive damages to Colaric.

Cordes said he will ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Francis X. Caiazza to order that Colaric, of Pittsburgh, be given the job he was passed over for.

Szymanski, of Allison Park, and attorney Susan Roberts, counsel for the former superintendent and the school district, weren't available for comment. Neither was Superintendent Jim Manley.

Colaric was a permanent half-time art teacher in Pine-Richland in 1997 when a full-time teacher in the department was suspended.

Colaric then was hired for a second job, a half-time substitute position, to help fill the void in the wake of the suspension.

Szymanski then approached Riley, who was teaching at Fox Chapel, and offered him the suspended teacher's position, according to testimony. Cordes argued that Riley expressed no interest in the position.

Despite that, Riley was hired in January 1998 to fill half of the suspended teacher's position as a substitute.

In May 1998, the school district created a half-time contracted position for a permanent art teacher. Colaric applied for the position, which would have given him two half-time permanent positions, or a full-time job.

He resigned in August 1998 after Riley was given the job. That same month, Riley was hired full time.

In her remarks to the jury, school district attorney Roberts said Riley was sought out as a substitute art teacher because the department was in chaos after the full-time teacher's suspension. Substitutes without art training were used to keep order in classes.

She contended there was no harm done in hiring Riley to the second half-time position, because he and Colaric each were working at two half-time positions.

Cordes claimed that Colaric deserved the two permanent part-time positions on the basis of seniority and his performance on the job.

Cordes said the Pine-Richland district was "the gold standard, the Cadillac of art programs where teachers wanted to work."

"There is a difference between affirmative action and providing extra consideration," Cordes said. "The evidence in this case clearly showed that the school district provided extra preferences that (Colaric) didn't receive."