Prep School Fined Nearly $1 Million for Firing Over Unequal Pay Inquiry

A jury has found that a preparatory school in Cleveland unlawfully fired an employee in retaliation for voicing concerns about the school’s sex-based wage discrimination practices, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. James Whiteman was fired from the Lake Ridge Academy after requesting information from the school about possible pay inequities between males and females with similar credentials.

The jury reached its unanimous verdict in the EEOC lawsuit after hearing testimony which proved that Whiteman was fired in retaliation for opposing sex-based wage discrimination. The jury awarded back pay of $50,000, front pay of $50,000, and compensatory damages of $500,000. While the jury was deliberating the matter of punitive damages, the parties agreed to settle the case for a total of $950,000. The EEOC’s suit was filed in U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, in August 2007 (1:07-cv-02615). Whiteman also filed a private lawsuit against the school and both cases were heard together.

Whiteman had been employed at the North Ridgeville, Ohio-based preparatory school as chair of an accreditation study and was fired after requesting information from Lake Ridge’s Head of Schools and the Chief Financial Officer regarding possible pay inequity when he noted that males were being paid more than females for similar education and work history.

In addition to the protections against retaliation that are included in all of the laws enforced by EEOC, Title VII also prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and protects employees who complain or oppose such discrimination from retaliation.

“In this case, the people have spoken,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jacqueline McNair, whose Philadelphia District also includes Cleveland. “The jury’s verdict in this case should make it clear to employers that retaliation has no place in the work environment.”

Whiteman’s private counsel, Gregory Gordillo of Gordillo & Gordillo, LLC, added, “James Whiteman had nothing to gain and everything to lose by standing up for female teachers that were afraid to do it themselves. He is a true hero and the resolution of this case is true justice. I am so honored to have represented him.” Gordillo can be contacted at (216) 875-5500.

According to its web site www.lakeridgeacademy.org, “Founded in 1963, Lake Ridge Academy is an independent, co-educational day school that serves Northeastern Ohio and the only independent school on Cleveland’s West Side,” and “enroll[s] qualified students in grades K-12 without regard to race, color, religion, nationality or ethnic background.”

Retaliation charge filings with the EEOC totaled 26,663 in Fiscal Year 2007, up 18 percent from the prior year to a record high level – and double the number of retaliation filings in FY 1992. Retaliation is now the second most frequent charge filing with EEOC office nationwide.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site http://www.eeoc.gov.

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