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Administrator's Race-Bias Suit on Benefits Revived

A federal appeals court has revived the race-discrimination lawsuit of a black school administrator who claims he received only partial payment for his unused sick days upon his retirement, while three white colleagues received full reimbursement.

William Houston retired in 1999 after 34 years with the Easton Area School District in Pennsylvania. He was the district director of support services at the time. Houston alleged in his suit that he received only 25 percent in pay, or some $33,000, for his unused sick days. At least three white administrators who retired about the same time as Houston received 100 percent pay for their unused sick days, according to court papers.

After hearing that some of the white administrators had received full reimbursement, Houston requested the same benefit, but was told that the district policy was to pay only 25 percent, his suit says. Houston sued, alleging race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A federal district court ruled for the school district, saying that three of the white administrators did not have jobs comparable to Houston's because of distinctions made under Pennsylvania law.

In a Dec. 8 decision in Houston v. Easton Area School District, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, overturned the district court and reinstated the black administrator's suit. The court said the evidence of the three white administrators' benefits packages should not have been excluded by the district court.

"Evidence of additional similarly situated employees outside of Houston's protected class--each of whom received or was promised 100 percent of his sick pay upon retirement--likely would have changed the entire complexion of the trial," the court said.

(Hat Tip to NSBA's Legal Clips on this case.)

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