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Lincoln public schools settle discrimination complaint for $315,000

Posted by Tom Coakley  November 22, 2013 01:56 PM

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The Lincoln Public School district agreed Thursday to pay $315,000 to settle a discrimination complaint filed by an African-American department head who alleged she was fired for protesting discrepancies between punishments doled out to children of different races.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in July found probable cause that the district and its then-superintendent Michael Brandmeyer may have discriminated against Metco program director Christina Horner when they eliminated her position in 2011. In the settlement, the district denies wrongdoing, and Horner agrees to withdraw and dismiss complaints she filed with MCAD and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“My next steps are simple,” said Horner in an email. “Forgiveness. No further comment on the matter.”

Horner’s attorney Robert Catapano-Friedman said his client was pleased to have the complaint behind her. He declined to comment on the negotiation process.

“I think it was a fair settlement, and that it resolves the matter,” he said. “All parties are happy to move on.”

Lincoln’s current superintendent, Rebecca McFall, did not respond to a request for comment; Brandmeyer could not immediately be reached.

“It was in the best interests of all the parties to move on,” said Peter E. Montgomery, the lawyer representing Brandmeyer and the district. “We went to conciliation in good faith and there’s no admission of liability on the part of any party, but you know, as is often the case, we certainly felt that it was in the best interest of the town to put this matter behind us.”

According to the agreement, $50,000 of the settlement is to cover Horner’s attorney’s fees. The town’s insurer will pay $207,500 of the settlement, and Lincoln will pay the remaining $107,500.

Horner, who worked for the district for nine years, alleged that she was targeted for termination after questioning in the fall of 2009 why two African-American boys who pulled down each other’s pants were punished more harshly than a Caucasian girl who did the same thing to a male Metco classmate. The boys were given one-day in-school suspensions, while the girl was given a lunch detention and made to apologize to her class.

The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program buses city students to suburban districts in an effort to provide them with better educational opportunities, and to create more racially diverse student bodies.

According to MCAD documents filed by Horner, Brandmeyer began talking about eliminating Horner’s position in April 2010. When her contract ran out in 2011, she was let go. During a January 2011 public meeting where minority hiring was discussed, according to Horner’s complaint, Brandmeyer said, “We only hire the best and brightest. Unfortunately the people of color whom we have interviewed have not been the best and brightest.”

The district maintained that Horner’s position was eliminated due to Metco budget cuts and an attendant increase in program costs, according to MCAD documents. The two pantsing incidents were treated differently, according to the district, because the one involving the two African American students was more severe than the one involving the Caucasian girl and the boy who was a Metco student.

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