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A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court and reinstated a discrimination lawsuit filed by a Black woman who was overlooked for promotion to school principal 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 almost a decade, a principal for around seven years, and as a child welfare and attendance supervisor for about seven years, according to the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in 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 open position. It went instead to a white man who had eight years of teaching experience.
Ms. Watson filed suit in U.S. District Court in Monroe, Louisiana, alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. The district court ruled in the school board’s favor, and was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.
Ms. Watson was rejected for the job on the basis she was a retiree returning to work who would not serve long term, and that, unlike the winning candidate, she did not live in Franklin Parish, the panel said.
However, Ms. Watson “produced evidence from which a jury could find that she was clearly better qualified for the principal position and that therefore the School Board’s proffered reasons” for selecting the winning candidate were pretextual, the ruling said.
She “presented evidence showing that she had significantly more education certifications” than the winning candidate. “More importantly, she also presented evidence as to her substantial amount of relevant work experience, above all almost a decade as an assistant principal at the Winnsboro school and as a principal in another school,” the ruling said, in overturning the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.