Carstarphen to testify in teachers’ age-discrimination suit

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Carstarphen to testify in teachers’ age-discrimination suit

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KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen will be deposed Monday as part of a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit in which older teachers allege they were penalized or terminated because of their age. KENT D. JOHNSON/ kdjohnson@ajc.com

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is scheduled to testify Monday as part of a federal age-discrimination lawsuit that alleges the district conducted “witch-hunts” against older teachers. 

The class-action suit contends the school district penalized, terminated, or forced the retirements of about 128 experienced teachers over the age of 40 as a way to cut costs. 

The district has denied the allegations. 

Carstarphen will sit next week for a deposition,  testimony under oath, in the case despite strong objections from school district attorneys.

“It’s obviously a lot easier to get a superintendent for a Rotary Club speech than it is for a deposition,” said Lester Tate, an attorney for the plaintiffs who will take her deposition. 

APS attorneys argued the superintendent does not have relevant, unique knowledge to provide. 

The school system’s lawyers described the deposition as “a last-ditch effort to save” a “floundering case.” 

They argued in court documents that the other side has “no evidence that Superintendent Carstarphen executed a policy, pattern, or practice of age discrimination at any time during her tenure at APS.” 

A judge permitted the deposition in an order that the school district objected to but was later upheld. There are some restrictions to the deposition: It can only last four hours and must take place on familiar grounds -- either at her office of her attorney’s office. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Walter Johnson wrote in his order that he is “sensitive to the need to protect Superintendent Carstarphen from any undue annoyance.” 

Tate said hearing directly from the district’s leader is key to the case. 

“It was somewhat startling to me to find that someone who has been such a public cheerleader and advocate … would go to such great lengths to avoid answering questions on matters of critical importance,” he said. 

The lawsuit, first filed in late 2015, contends the school district “has been attempting to replace experienced, higher-paid teachers with relatively inexperienced teachers at entry level salaries” since Carstarphen took over the top post in July of 2014. 

The plaintiffs allege in court documents that the school district conducted investigations, or “witch-hunts,” against long-serving teachers. 

The suit states that APS transferred older teachers to lower-performing schools, failed or refused to give them necessary tools to do their jobs, reprimanded them “for minor infractions,” and in some cases reassigned the teachers to “meaningless work.” 

APS spokeswoman Pat St. Claire declined to comment on the case. 

She previously released a statement saying the district has planned a vigorous defense.

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