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Lawsuit against Talbot County schools alleges discrimination, retaliation

(iStock/aluxum)

(iStock/aluxum)

A former Talbot County school manager has filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the county school system, alleging he was fired after he complained that his supervisor frequently harassed him and used “racially derogatory” language to intimidate him.

Barry Belle, who served as Easton Middle School’s school manager from July 2014 until April 2015, was put on probation and then demoted to the position of instructional assistant by the school’s principal, Norby Lee, who Belle alleges told him not to trust white staff members at the school.

Belle, who is black, was terminated after he filed a formal complaint of discrimination, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Talbot County Circuit Court and transferred to U.S. District Court in Baltimore last week.

As a school manager, Belle’s duties included overseeing the middle school’s daily operations and non-instructional staff, according to the lawsuit. In December 2014, Lee, who also is black, called Belle’s job performance unsatisfactory, alleged he was maintaining poor relationships with white staff members and placed him on probation for three months.

Belle asked Lee for the names of staff members who had complained about him, according to the suit, but Lee refused to give them.

When Lee saw photos of Belle’s biracial children on his desk, she allegedly told him she had been “depending on [him] to help darken this school,” the lawsuit states. Several times, Lee also allegedly told Belle, “These people don’t mean you any good,” suggested he should not trust white staff members who she claimed had been trying to “get rid of her” for years, according to the complaint.

In January 2015, Lee recommended that Belle’s probation be extended, and several months later, she recommended the probation continue through the end of 2015. Bell subsequently told Lee he would be filing a discrimination complaint.

In the written complaint, which Belle submitted to the school system superintendent, he alleged Lee had been “harassing, bullying, intimidating and causing me to experience a very hostile environment at the work place,” the suit states.

Belle was placed on administrative leave several days later, but was not offered training to improve his allegedly poor job performance, the suit states. On April 13, 2015, he was demoted to the position of instructional assistant at the school system’s Alternative Learning Center, a step the complaint alleges has since hindered his ability to obtain employment as a school manager.

Belle was fired from his position last June and replaced by a white female, the suit states. According to his lawsuit, “similarly situated employees,” such as a white male guidance counselor who had “performance and attendance issues,” were not placed on probation or fired.

The lawsuit alleges race and gender discrimination, as well as retaliation, and seeks unspecified damages, including back pay and lost benefits, COBRA payments, front pay and special damages.

Belle’s attorney, Paul V. Bennett of Bennett & Ellison PC in Annapolis, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit. Talbot County schools superintendent Kelly L. Griffith also did not immediately return an email message seeking comment on the allegations.

The case is Barry Belle v. Talbot County Public Schools, 1:16-cv-01785-JKB.


About Lauren Kirkwood

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