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City school board settles race bias suit by fired white supervisor

The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners and three of its middle managers have reached a settlement of claims that they harassed and fired a white buildings supervisor because of his race.

The board, which is considered a state agency, declined Wednesday to disclose the amount of the settlement with Robert A. Shank. The Daily Record is submitting a Maryland Public Information Act request for that information.

Shank claimed in a $1.2 million lawsuit that he received nothing but accolades during his first six weeks overseeing school maintenance, culminating in a public compliment from Keith Scroggins, the school system’s chief operating officer, at an employee assembly in December 2006.

But the praise drew scorn from Shank’s three black supervisors, he alleged in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The supervisors — Jerry Watkins, William Watkins and Kevin Seawright — ultimately conspired to bring “falsified charges of misconduct” that led to Shank’s firing on March 13, 2009, Shank claimed. He alleged their rancor was rooted in “racial jealousy” as Jerry Watkins often referred to him as “that white boy” and “that stupid white boy.”

The supervisors “proceeded to create a false case against plaintiff to justify terminating him from his position,” Shank alleged. “As a consequence, for reasons of race, the employer [board], acting through the individual defendants, ended his employment.”

Shank’s attorney, Baltimore solo practitioner John H. Morris Jr., said he and his client agreed to the settlement out of “a desire to find a resolution.” Morris declined further comment.

Shank, now 59, filed suit in April 2011, claiming the board violated Title VII of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act by discriminating against him base on race. Shank, who had an annual salary of $59,692, had sought damages of $626,764 in front pay, $308,010 in back pay and $300,000 for pain and suffering.

The board and the supervisors denied the allegations, stating that Scroggins’ praise of Shank was the only accolade he received and that his nearly six years with the school system were “riddled with difficulty,” including frequent tardiness at meetings, failing to clean graffiti at several schools in his region and not promptly telling supervisors of an oil spill at one of the schools.

Shank’s firing was based neither on racial jealously nor a trumped-up allegation but on “willful neglect of duty in the performance of his job responsibilities and insubordination towards his immediate supervisor and other board managers,” the defendants stated in court documents.

The board and middle managers also disputed that Shank’s allegation of racial epithets, “even if true, establishes pretext sufficient to overcome defendants’ legitimate non-discriminatory reasons” for firing him.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge William M. Nickerson cited the settlement in dismissing the case without prejudice on Monday. Either party can move to reopen the case if the settlement is not consummated by June 12, Nickerson stated in his settlement order.

Anne Fullerton, the board’s acting spokeswoman, declined to comment on the settlement.

“It’s still open litigation at this time,” she said.

Attorneys for Jerry Watkins and William Watkins also declined to comment on the settlement.

Darryl G. McCallum, of Shawe & Rosenthal LLP in Baltimore, represented Jerry Watkins, and William Watkins was represented by Deborah K. St. Lawrence Thompson of Miles & Stockbridge P.C. in Baltimore.

Kevin Seawright’s attorney, Edmund J. O’Meally, did not return a telephone message seeking comment. He is with Pessin Katz Law P.A. in Towson.

ROBERT A. SHANK V. BALTIMORE CITY BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

1:11-cv-01067-WMN

Judge:

William M. Nickerson

Outcome:

Settlement.

Dates:

Incident: March 13, 2009

Suit filed: April 25, 2011

Settlement order: May 12, 2014

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

John H. Morris Jr. of the Law Office of John H. Morris Jr. in Baltimore.

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Marla Y. Johnson of Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, Darryl G. McCallum of Shawe & Rosenthal LLP in Baltimore, Deborah K. St. Lawrence Thompson of Miles & Stockbridge P.C. in Baltimore and Edmund J. O’Meally of Pessin Katz Law P.A. in Towson.

Count:

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.