PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Four white teachers at a Philadelphia elementary school say they suffered various forms of race-based, disparate treatment at the hands of administrators, including being accused by a principal "of being unfit to teach the African American students."
As part of "professional development" at Thomas Mifflin Elementary School, a former principal forced employees "to read an article instructing the teachers that white teachers do no have the ability to teach African American students," according to four federal complaints filed last week.
The teachers say that the school's former principal, Charles Ray III, who is black, established "an atmosphere of distrust and favoritism" in which white teachers' relationships with their students were "repeatedly sabotaged."
The teachers say the racial discrimination was ubiquitous, and prevented them from doing their jobs.
Schedules were changed without notice, access to school supplies was denied, room assignments were randomly switched, and poor professional performance marks were issued for the teachers, simply because of their race, according to the suits.
Meanwhile, Ray let black teachers "overlook, override or flat-out ignore school rules and policies," according to the complaints.
Ray also made sure that black teachers controlled the union and weeded out white representatives in a scheme that ignored union voting procedure, the teachers claim.
As such, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Union failed to provide proper representation when teachers filed grievances.
When the teachers complained, they became the targets of an investigation, the goal of which was to "intimidate, harass and find basis for firing," according to their suits.
They say their personal information, including home addresses, were disclosed to a hired investigator, causing them to fear for their families' safety.
Each teacher seeks more than $150,000, alleging violations of various civil rights statutes. They also request relief for invasion of privacy, due-process violations, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, tortuous interference with contractual relations and civil conspiracy.
Named as defendants are the Philadelphia School District, the union, Ray, fellow teacher Shirl Ishmael and two other as-yet unknown "high official" defendants.
One attorney for the teachers, Patricia Heenan of Blue Bell, Pa., told Courthouse News that the discrimination was "continuous and distressing," but declined to discuss certain aspects of the allegations not addressed in the complaints themselves.
A spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.