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Prince George’s County teacher files $300K retaliation lawsuit

(iStock/aluxum)

(iStock/aluxum)

A Prince George’s County middle school teacher has filed a $300,000 lawsuit against the county board of education, alleging she was retaliated against after complaining that her supervisor routinely harassed her and discriminated against her because she was born in Jamaica.

Mabel Smith, who began working for the county school system in 2001, alleged she was “singled out” for harsh treatment by Amin Salaam, the principal of Kettering Middle School and her supervisor from 2012 to 2015, according to her complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. The treatment eventually led her to take an extended period of medical leave, the suit states.

“Over the years, she’s been recognized as a really outstanding teacher,” said Bryan A. Chapman, a Washington, D.C. solo practitioner representing Smith. “She’s still seeing doctors and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. This really aggravated a lot of health conditions that she has.”

When Smith complained to Salaam that he had assigned her a much higher workload than other teachers — which caused her to suffer from high blood pressure due to stress — Salaam did not reduce her workload but instead threatened her with a poor performance review, the lawsuit states.

Salaam also told Smith she should be glad to have a job, the suit alleges.

“On several occasions, Principal Salaam made derogatory comments about Ms. Smith’s national origin (Jamaican),” the suit states. “For instance, Principal Salaam said to Ms. Smith, ‘I know about you Jamaicans. I grew up in New York so I know you people.’ During a meeting, Principal Salaam said to Ms. Smith, ‘I told my wife about you and I told her I was having a hard time with you.’ Principal Salaam told Ms. Smith that his wife’s response was, ‘You know how these Jamaicans are.’”

A county spokesman referred questions about the lawsuit to the school system. Prince George’s County Public Schools’ offices were closed due to weather on Monday, and a spokeswoman for the school system did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

During last school year, Salaam entered Smith’s classroom as she was teaching and yelled at her “in a menacing tone” in front of her students, the complaint states.

 

Public upbraiding

Last January, Smith sent a letter to her union representative explaining the harassment she had experienced, and later requested a meeting with Salaam to address her complaints. Several days later, the lawsuit states, Salaam told Smith during the meeting that he was giving her a letter of reprimand because he was “tired” of her.

Salaam also told Smith during that meeting that he planned to “put a stop” to her complaints, the suit states. About a month later, he accused Smith of failing to intervene when two students were about to fight in the hallway outside her classroom. Smith, who was monitoring students at the time, said she did not see any signs of a fight, the suit states.

In another meeting after that incident, Smith said Salaam yelled at her, called her a liar and accused her of deliberately endangering a child’s life, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result, Ms. Smith suffered a medical emergency and had to be rushed to Doctors’ Community Hospital in an ambulance,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Smith’s blood pressure was elevated and she had difficulty breathing. Ms. Smith was sweating profusely; and she experienced chest pains and severe heart palpitations.”

Smith, who is now working at a different school in the county, according to Chapman, took an extended period of medical leave for the remainder of the school year.

In June, she visited the middle school while still on medical leave to attend an awards ceremony for some of her students but was yelled at publicly by Salaam, the suit alleges.

Salaam also gave Smith an annual job performance rating of “ineffective” in retaliation for her complaints, the lawsuit claims.

Smith’s suit demands $300,000 in damages, including lost pay and benefits with interest.

The case is Mabel Smith v. Board of Education of Prince George’s County, 8:16-cv-00206-GJH.


About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.