A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court and reinstated a discrimination lawsuit filed by a black woman who was passed over for a principal’s promotion in favor of a white man with less experience.
Esther Watson worked in education for about 50 years, including as a teacher for 20, an assistant principal for nearly a decade, a principal for about seven years and a child welfare and attendance supervisor for about seven years, according to the ruling by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans i Esther Watson v. School Board of Franklin Parish, et al.
During the 2017-2018 school year, the principal of Winnsboro Elementary School in Winnsboro, Louisiana resigned and Ms. Watson applied for the vacant position. It went instead to a white man who had eight years of teaching experience.
Watson filed suit in the US District Court in Monroe, Louisiana, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. The district court ruled in favor of the school board, and was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court.
Watson was rejected for the job because she was a retiree returning to work who would not serve long-term, and because, unlike the winning candidate, she did not live in Franklin Parish, the panel said.
But Ms. Watson “produced evidence from which a jury could find that she was clearly better qualified for the position of principal and that therefore the school board̵7;s stated reasons” for selecting the winning candidate were pretextual, the ruling said.
She “presented evidence showing that she had significantly more educational credentials” than the winning candidate. “More importantly, she also presented evidence of her substantial amount of relevant work experience, most notably nearly a decade as an assistant principal at the Winnsboro school and as principal at another school,” said the ruling, which overturned the lower court and remanded the case for further processing.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.