A jury in Boston awarded $1.7 million to a Black teacher after it found school district leaders fired him because he repeatedly raised complaints about being discriminated against at work. According to The Boston Globe, the money was awarded to Charles Sherman Neal after a more than five-year legal battle.
Neal was the only Black teacher at Boston Community Leadership Academy where he had been tasked to start a gym program. But after raising discrimination complaints on a number of occasions, he was terminated. Neal was said to have even gone as far as filing complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
Neal was awarded the $1.7 million after the jury found that the school’s headmaster and other officials relieved the Black teacher of his duties to get back at him for legally exercising his right to file workplace discrimination complaints without the fear of facing any consequences. However, the jury did not find the Boston Public Schools had discriminated against Neal.
“What the Boston Public Schools did to him is despicable,” Neal’s attorney, Ilir Kavaja, said. “This is a man who had cancer and overcame it and went to work right away and he was put through the wringer. … They had no basis to believe that this person couldn’t fulfill the obligations of his job. They just got tired of his complaints and didn’t want to deal with him.”
Kavaja also said his client’s termination severely impacted him as he suffered extreme depression and anxiety. The Boston Community Leadership Academy initially employed Neal as a part-time teacher around 2008. He was ultimately hired on a permanent basis in 2012 after he complained several times that the school’s hiring practices were racially discriminatory, court documents stated.
Neal also cited instances where he believed he was racially targeted. This included school officials fixing surveillance cameras in the gymnasium where he taught, while no such cameras were installed in the classrooms of other White teachers, court documents stated. Neal was also not notified about the camera installations, though district policy states teachers should receive prior notification about such arrangements, The Boston Globe reported.
An adult was also made to keep an eye on the girls’ locker room when Neal was teaching, court documents stated. But that wasn’t the case with a White man who was his substitute. Neal said he also had to wait for two months for school officials to reactivate his access control credentials into the building in 2014.
That same year, Neal was placed on administrative leave pending misconduct investigations though the school’s headmaster had reportedly commended him for fostering a safe learning environment three days prior. The school’s former headmaster ultimately terminated Neal in 2016 citing “incapacity.” And though Neal was re-employed after arbitration, the Boston Public Schools moved to terminate him again.
“I think they mishandled the whole thing from the beginning to the end,” Kavaja said, adding that the school system flouted its own guidelines. “As a kid in Cambridge, his teachers protected him when he was discriminated against and he wanted to do the same for his students.”