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District Settles Bias Suit by 3 Black Teachers

Courts: Plaintiffs will receive a total of $310,000 after alleging that they were passed over for assignments in favor of less-qualified candidates.

January 05, 2002|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Unified School District has resolved a 4-year-old lawsuit, agreeing to pay more than $310,000 to three African American teachers who said they faced pervasive discrimination at South Gate Middle School.

The teachers alleged that they had been passed over for desirable assignments in favor of less-qualified candidates at the predominantly Latino campus. They said they had faced racial slurs from students and others, and had received unwarranted discipline.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Emily F. Gibson, welcomed the conclusion of the legal saga, but said the victory rang hollow.

"The money was never the issue. It was the principle that mattered," said Gibson, 61, who still teaches at the school. "African American teachers and students have continually received disparate treatment at South Gate Middle School and across the district."

Gibson and her two colleagues sued the school district in 1997. District officials said they investigated the complaints but found no evidence of racism on campus.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury sided with the three teachers in 1999, awarding them more than $242,000.

The district appealed the jury verdict. Last July, the state Court of Appeal upheld the lower court decision, saying "the record is replete with evidence demonstrating harassment, retaliation and [a] hostile environment" at South Gate Middle School.

District officials decided against taking the case to the state Supreme Court.

"The likelihood of success on appeal wasn't great, given the Court of Appeal opinion," said Hal Kwalwasser, the district's general counsel. "The consensus was that it didn't seem like we were going to get anywhere."

Gibson will receive more than $127,000 under the judgment. Plaintiff Frances Copeland, who now teaches at Edison Middle School in South Los Angeles, will get more than $124,000.

The third teacher, retiree Levell Smith, will receive nearly $59,000. The awards include thousands of dollars in accrued interest.

Attorney B. Kwaku Duren will receive $86,300 in fees.

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