A federal jury has ruled that the Malverne school district did not discriminate against a black assistant principal in what was the third and final case connected to claims of discrimination made against the district by three employees.
Betsy Benedith, of Brooklyn, was an assistant principal who claimed in court papers filed in 2011 that she was denied tenure and fired because of her race. Benedith and two other employees had brought legal action against the district and its officials on racial discrimination claims.
A federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Central Islip last week rendered a verdict in favor of the district as well as Superintendent of Schools James Hunderfund and retired Malverne High School principal James Brown. The Benedith case was tried in three days before U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack.
The jury was asked to determine whether the school district and its administrators’ actions violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights. The jury unanimously found the defendants did not terminate Benedith’s employment on the basis of her race, and that she was not subjected to a racially hostile work environment, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the district.
“On behalf of the Malverne Board of Education and the entire school community, we are gratified that we can now continue to move forward, together, for the benefit of all children in our care,” Hunderfund said in a statement.
Benedith’s attorney, Joshua Moskovitz of Manhattan, said Tuesday that “the evidence clearly showed that Ms. Benedith was an exemplary administrator, and the testimony during trial confirmed that the District’s reasons for terminating her were baseless. In the end, it is the students of Malverne High School who suffer from the District’s decision to remove a highly qualified and compassionate educator.”
And Benedith in a statement said: “This is not a loss; this is a wake-up call to all who witness discrimination and remain silent. Martin L. King said it best: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Her case is the last of three originally brought in one action that also included math teacher Kenneth Smith of South Hempstead and business teacher Sherwyn Besson of Lakeview. Smith and Besson had claimed denial of promotion and opportunities for extra pay.
U.S. District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt severed the three cases on Aug. 15, 2014, and dismissed several of the claims.
On Dec. 9, 2015, after a trial, a jury unanimously found in favor of the school district, Hunderfund and assistant superintendent Rose Linda Ricca on Smith’s claims of discrimination. Smith remains employed at the middle school as a math teacher.
After a trial, a jury on March 16, 2016, unanimously found in favor of the district, Hunderfund and principal Vincent Romano on Besson’s claims of discrimination and retaliation.
Besson said in court papers that he was reduced to part-time work in the 2011-12 school year, with no medical benefits. He had quit as a result, he said.