|Top administrators at a Camden middle school forced an entire bilingual class of Hispanic children to eat on the cafeteria floor for a week because one student accidentally spilled some water, and when the teacher complained, the principal and vice principal fired him immediately on trumped-up charges, the teacher claims in Federal Court.
Jose Rivera sued the Camden Board of Education for discrimination and wrongful firing. He claims that in February this year, on a day he was absent, a student in his bilingual class accidentally spilled some water while trying to change the jug in a water cooler. Rivera says the vice principal Theresa Brown, who is black, "decided that the Hispanic children would have to eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays, while the African-American and mixed classes sat at lunch tables with trays. This went on for more than a week before the Plaintiff learned of the punishment."
Rivera adds, "Also unbeknownst to the Plaintiff, Brown had threatened the children with further punishment if the children told anyone about her outrageously demeaning and discriminating punishment."
He claims that one of the children's parents went to the school at the end of February to complain to the principal, Alex DeFlavis, who is white. Rivera says DeFlavis refused to speak to the parent, but the principal's secretary took the complaint, and related it to the plaintiff.
Rivera said he spoke to his children, who told him of their punishment, and the threat of more punishment, and he told them to tell their parents to contact the Board of Education.
"After receiving the parents' complaints, the Board of Education immediately retaliated against the Plaintiff, reprimanding and suspending the Plaintiff for failing to notify the Principal, even though the Principal already knew and had taken no action. The Plaintiff never worked another day for the Defendants," the complaint states. He was fired on March 18 for "conduct unbecoming of a board employee." Rivera says vice principal Brown was not fired, but was transferred to another school.
"After a public uproar, nationwide press coverage, newspaper editorials, and parent demonstrations related to the Plaintiff's termination, the Defendants changed the reason for terminating the Plaintiff to 'insufficient certification.' This was a transparent pretext, since numerous bilingual teachers were given a class by the Board in May 2008 to complete their certification, and if the Plaintiff had not been terminated, he would have taken the class in May with the other teachers and completed his certification," the complaint states.
He demands preservation of evidence and damages for wrongful firing, discrimination and civil rights violations. He is represented by Alan Schorr of Cherry Hill.