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Former Baltimore city teacher claims whistleblower status, challenges termination

A veteran Baltimore City Public Schools teacher has suing the school board for allegedly transferring him and then terminating his position in retaliation for his complaints about policy violations and school conditions.

Scott Miller-Phoenix, who was hired as a teacher in 1992, claims the school system violated a new whistleblower law for public school employees when he was punished for reporting problems ranging from health and safety issues to violations of personnel policies.

In a complaint filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Dec. 18, Miller-Phoenix claims he made the reports to his union, the school board, elected officials and news outlets throughout his tenure with the school system but “BCPSS refused to take corrective action to resolve the issues” and instead “attempted to silence Plaintiff and others who complained.”

A BCPS spokesperson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The Maryland Public School Employee Whistleblower Protection Act, which went into effect in October, prohibits a public school employer from taking personnel action as a reprisal against an employee for disclosing or objecting to violations of laws, rules or regulations.

Though Miller-Phoenix was let go before the effective date of the law, his lawyer believes the violation is continuing because Miller-Phoenix “has not been returned to his rightful position of employment.”

Miller-Phoenix learned over the summer that his contract, which had been conditional while certification issues which he disputed were addressed, would not be renewed.

“I think he has a good reason to question the system and whether the system actually is working for the benefit of the children, the students of Baltimore city as it’s intended to do,” said Corlie McCormick Jr, and Annapolis solo practitioner. “These teachers, they not only have the right but they have the obligation to speak out when they see there are myriad issues within the school system that should be corrected. My client isn’t the only teacher to have spoken out and it seems like this is an unfortunate pattern in Baltimore city.”

‘Surplus’ employee

Miller-Phoenix was routinely selected as “surplus” pursuant to a policy allowing principals to eliminate positions when enrollment declines despite his tenure and seniority, and his lawsuit alleges he was transferred to undesirable locations while his preferences and experience were ignored.

After opposing the closure of Northwestern High School and participating in demonstrations in 2016, Miller-Phoenix was deemed surplus again and filed an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was then assigned to a primary school and complained to the board about violations of procedures, according to the lawsuit.

“It seemed like the retaliation really started to intensify once he contacted the board,” said McCormick.

Meanwhile, Miller-Phoenix had completed requirements in June 2016 to maintain his teaching certification but alleges the school system informed him in October his certificate had lapsed and terminated his employment contract, according to the lawsuit. Miller-Phoenix was not informed the school system had requested reinstatement of his certificate but later rescinded the request, according to the lawsuit.

Miller-Phoenix accepted a conditional teaching contract while the certification issue was being resolved, and he was notified his position was being eliminated within days. His salary and benefits were terminated last December with no notice, the complaint states.

After his termination, Miller-Phoenix filed a worker’s compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder sustained through his duties with the school system and gave media interviews complaining about violations of policies, the lawsuit states. His certification reinstatement request was denied and his contract was not renewed for the current school year, the lawsuits states.

“It’s just a very bizarre set of circumstances to lead to someone’s termination,” McCormick said.

Miller-Phoenix’s lawsuit claims violations of the Maryland Public School Employee Whistleblower Protection Act and Baltimore City Code Whistleblower Law as well as wrongful discharge and breach of contract.

The case is Scott Miller-Phoenix v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, 24C17006460.

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