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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Education

Forest Hills teacher files discrimination lawsuit

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— A Hillsborough County teacher last week filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school district, claiming she was treated unfairly because of her race and disability.

The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, was brought by Connie Broughan, who began working for the school district in 2003. Broughan, who lives in Pasco County, is on leave from her job as a teacher at Forest Hills Elementary School.

According to the suit, her troubles with the district began in 2009 when she was passed up for a promotion at Jackson Elementary and that it instead was given to a less-qualified black teacher. Broughan, who is white, filed a complaint with the school district, the suit states, but no action was taken.

“Broughan has endured continuous race-based discrimination while employed with the defendant, thereby altering the terms and conditions of her employment and creating a hostile work environment,” the lawsuit states.

From then on, the suit says Broughan was given poor evaluations by her supervisor, Jackson Elementary Principal Dora Madison, which Broughan saw as retaliation.

Madison, reached Monday, declined to comment.

In October 2012, Broughan went on medical leave because of an anxiety disorder that comes with panic attacks and depression triggered by the stress of a hostile work environment, according to the lawsuit. It states that her disorder is considered to be a disability and that she has the right to request “reasonable accommodations” through the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Broughan returned to work in November 2013 and asked for a different evaluation process than the principal observations conducted through the school district’s Empowering Effective Teachers evaluation program.

“Being able to withstand the EET evaluation is not an essential function of Broughan’s job,” the lawsuit states.

After she made the request, Broughan said she was subject to harsh treatment and formal, in-classroom observations. The lawsuit details one of them, when she reportedly suffered a panic attack in front of the principal, who “smiled at the back of the classroom as Broughan struggled to maintain her composure.”

Hillsborough teacher evaluations are determined through observations by principal and a peer, as well as student test scores.

The suit says Broughan has suffered damages including loss of employment opportunities, income and benefits, as well as humiliation and physical injuries, mental and emotional distress.

She seeks back pay, front pay and attorney fees, as well as reimbursement of “all expenses and financial losses” the district caused.

Her attorney, Bonita Springs-based Benjamin Yormak, did not respond to requests for comment.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation. Hegarty said race is not a factor in the school district’s hiring practices and that all teachers go through the same evaluation process.

ekourkounis@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7999

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