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Teacher's Claim of Bias Due to Hispanic Ethnicity Revived on Appeal

A federal appeals court has reinstated a New York state teacher's lawsuit claiming he was discriminated against by his school district based on his Hispanic ethnicity.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, ruled unanimously to revive most aspects of the suit filed by teacher Carlos Vega, a high school mathematics teacher in the Hempstead Union Free School District on Long Island.

Vega is of Puerto Rican heritage and fluent in English and Spanish, court papers say. His suit contends that beginning in 2008, after many years of good performance reviews and nine years after he received tenure, administrators assigned him an increased proportion of students who spoke only Spanish, forcing him to do "twice as much work" to prepare for and teach his classes.

He also contends that he was assigned a classroom with a "University of Puerto Rico" banner displayed above the door. And he says the district twice tried to transfer him to other schools, including one with a Hispanic principal.

After Vega filed a discrimination charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011, he says the district retaliated against him, such as by assigning him classes in which as many as 75 percent of the students were excessively absent, which could reflect poorly on his job performance.

Vega sued the district and two administrators under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as a civil-rights claim under the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

A federal district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the case.

In its Sept. 2 decision in Vega v. Hempstead Union Free School District, the 2nd Circuit court panel revived several of the teacher's claims.

"We conclude that Vega pleaded a plausible discrimination claim ... based on his allegation that the district assigned him classes with higher numbers of Spanish‐speaking students and, in doing so, assigned him a disproportionate workload," the court said. 

While Vegaʹs other claims did not plausibly state a discrimination claim on their own, they did help establish context for the disproportionate-workload claim, the panel said. The placement of the "University of Puerto Rico" banner and the attempt to transfer him to a school led by a Hispanic principal "are plausibly connected to Vegaʹs Hispanic background and therefore provide a contextual basis for inferring discrimination," the court said.

The court also held that Vega had adequately pleaded retaliation claims based on the assignment of "notoriously absent students" to his classroom and other actions that came soon after he filed or amended his claims with the EEOC.

The appeals court's action sends Vega's case back to the district court for further action.

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