A black Anne Arundel County public school administrator has filed suit against the county board of education, alleging his supervisor told him he “intimidated” his staff and students’ parents before demoting him because of his race.
While Michael Lyons was serving as principal of Meade Middle School in 2014, his supervisor, assistant superintendent Ray Bibeault, told him that he needed to watch his tone of voice during interactions with staff and parents and called him a “big black man,” according to Lyons’ lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
“Caught off guard and extremely offended, Dr. Lyons responded to Mr. Bibeault that his interactions with Meade’s staff and parents were similar in tone and delivery to that of his predecessor, a Caucasian male, who was not confronted about ‘intimidating’ Meade’s staff and parents or having a ‘negative perception’ therefrom as a result,” the suit states. “Mr. Bibeault flippantly dismissed Dr. Lyons’ concerns of disparate treatment based upon Dr. Lyons’ race.”
Robert J. Mosier, a school system spokesman, said on Tuesday that he had not seen the lawsuit and that the school system does not comment on pending litigation.
Lyon was hired in Anne Arundel in 2010 and started working as an assistant principal at Meade Middle School, the suit states. In 2013, he was promoted to principal of the school and began reporting to Bibeault, who is white.
Bibeault met with Lyons in March 2013 to tell him he was intimidating to colleagues and to students’ parents and that a negative perception of him had developed at the school, implying that Lyons’ race and size were contributing factors, the complaint states.
Lyons objected to Bibeault’s remarks and then reported the comments to the school system’s director of family and community services. In May 2014, during a meeting with Lyons and the incoming schools superintendent, the outgoing interim superintendent told Lyons that Bibeault had come forward with an anonymous letter criticizing his conduct as principal and said Bibeault wanted to fire or demote him, the lawsuit states.
But the letter was never shared with Lyons, who claims in his lawsuit that he had never received a complaint about his performance, managerial style or interactions with school staff and parents during his time working for the school system.
In a performance evaluation that took place soon after Bibeault brought up the letter, Lyons received a “satisfactory” rating overall. However, Bibeault ranked him as “developing” — or below expectations — for his influence on “school culture,” the suit states.
Several months later, Lyons was demoted to the position of assistant principal at Old Mill High School in Millersville, where he currently works. His former role of Meade principal was filled by a Filipino woman who did not have a doctorate in education and was therefore less qualified, according to the suit.
“We firmly believe that Mr. Lyons was treated in a discriminatory manner, as we stated in the complaint, and we look forward to proceeding,” said Jay P. Holland of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt, an attorney for Lyons.
The lawsuit alleges race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and retaliation and seeks unspecified damages.
The case is Michael Lyons v. Board of Education of Anne Arundel County, 8:16-cv-03262-RWT.