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Teacher claims bias by Prince George’s board of education

A former Prince George’s County special education teacher is suing the county’s board of education, claiming it discriminated against her because of her Filipino heritage.

Bella Manguiat of Temple Hills filed suit on Friday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Manguiat was hired on a work visa in July 2007. She alleged that the county ignored complaints that she was called “stupid,” suffered humiliation and was told to “go back to her country” while she worked at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in District Heights from August 2009 until November 2011.

Manguiat also said Judie Strawbridge, the principal at Francis Scott Key, ignored her complaints that another teacher was sexually harassing her. Instead, she said Strawbridge assigned her to co-teach with the alleged harasser.

When she complained to her union about the “hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and disparate treatment,” Manguiat said, she received inaccurate performance evaluations that resulted in her being placed on an extended probationary period and prevented her from seeking permanent residency in the United States.

Manguiat said the board failed to give her proper notice that her probationary period was being extended. Under her contract, she said, the board should have notified her by Nov. 9, 2009, at the latest. Instead, she was notified on April 20, 2010.

Because she was not provided with proper notice, she said, she was not able to “timely challenge the determination, thereby losing her opportunity to tenure and to gain permanent resident status in the United States.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Manguiat a right-to-sue letter on Feb. 6. She wants the court to declare that the board intentionally discriminated and retaliated against her and subjected her to a hostile work environment.

She is also asking for back pay, lost future wages and benefits, and compensatory and punitive damages in an unspecified amount.

“[The board’s] conduct constitutes intentional, willful, malicious and flagrant violation of [Manguiat’s] rights … as to warrant punitive or exemplary damages,” she said in the suit. “As a direct and proximate result of the intentional racial discrimination to which she was subjected, Plaintiff Manguiat has suffered, and continues to suffer lost wages and benefits, humiliation, indignity, and extreme emotional distress.”

This is not the first time the Prince George’s County Board of Education has drawn criticism for its treatment of Filipino teachers.

In July 2011, the board agreed to pay $4 million to reimburse more than 1,000 foreign teachers, most from the Philippines, whom it hired under a visa program for foreign workers. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor found the teachers were illegally required to pay fees that should have been covered by the school system.

The school system also agreed to pay $100,000 in penalties and was barred for two years from hiring additional foreign teachers.

Hnin N. Khaing, an attorney at the Law Office of Hnin N. Khaing in Washington, D.C., represents Manguiat. Khaing mentioned the board’s 2011 agreement with the Labor Department in the complaint he drafted for Manguiat.

“It’s a shame [because] we need teachers in this country,” Khaing said in a telephone interview Monday.

Khaing declined to discuss whether Manguiat is currently employed elsewhere in Maryland or the region.

Briant K. Coleman, a spokesman for the board, declined to comment on Manguiat’s lawsuit Monday. Strawbridge did not return calls for comment.

The case has been assigned to Chief Judge Deborah K. Chasanow.