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Federal Suit Accuses Newport-Mesa Schools of Age Bias in Employment : Education: Hiring younger teachers to save money is a widespread, accepted practice, the superintendent says.


SANTA ANA — In a test case for California, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, accusing the district of regularly discriminating against teachers who are older than 40.

The suit is the first to challenge the widespread practice in the state's public schools of hiring younger teachers over older applicants to save money, Newport-Mesa Superintendent Mac Bernd said. A decision could affect thousands of people statewide, Bernd said, if it results in changes to the California Education Code to ensure against age discrimination.

"There could be national implications," he said. "You've got the same practice all over the country."

The commission charges that the district illegally turned down a then 42-year-old woman with 16 years' teaching experience because she would have commanded a higher salary than candidates with fewer years of teaching.

Marilyn Weinman applied for a kindergarten teaching job at Newport-Mesa in 1991, the suit says, but was passed over in favor of a teacher with less experience.

The commission's attorneys could not be reached for comment Friday. School administrators have chosen to fight the lawsuit, Bernd said, because they believe they have done nothing wrong. "We feel that our position in the matter is correct and will be sustained in court," he said. "We've been operating within the law."

The suit, which was filed Aug. 16 and also names the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, challenges the district's practice of putting a cap on the number of years a teacher can be credited when applying for a job. The practice ensures more equity between young teachers and more experienced teachers who compete for jobs, Bernd said. In the Newport-Mesa district, the cap is six years, he said, while in many districts caps range from five to 10 years.

The caps are needed because they save financially strapped school districts from having to pay high salaries, he said.

The suit contends that the practice "results in an adverse impact upon persons 40 years of age and older."

Weinman was up for two jobs in the district but was not selected in part because her competitors had better Spanish-speaking abilities, said the district's director of human resources, Bill Nunan.

The teacher who got the kindergarten job over Weinman was fluent in Spanish, Nunan said, was 32 and had two years of full-time teaching experience.

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