Emanuel's pick to head CPS faces civil rights lawsuit

April 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

In this Intelligence Report: Within the past year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York determined that Jean-Claude Brizard violated the federal Civil Rights Act.

This case occurred when Brizard was school superintendent in Rochester, New York. The U.S. EEOC found that Brizard had fired a high-ranking school district official because she was too old and because she was a black woman. Now she is suing Brizard and the Rochester schools in a case that seems to have touched a nerve inside Emanuel's transition office.

Marilynn Patterson-Grant spent 35 years working her way up to district superintendent in charge of all instructional programs for the Rochester schools. Last summer, school superintendent Brizard fired her, claiming the termination was for poor performance.

Patterson-Gran contended Brizard had made it known that, among other things, she was too old. She filed a complaint with the EEOC.

Last June, this determination from the federal commission: Brizard had "a bias based on age and a bias regarding African-American women." That cleared the way for 57-year-old Patterson-Grant to file a civil rights lawsuit against Chicago's soon-to-be appointed school superintendent.

The lawsuit, lodged in January, contends that Brizard stated, "In teaching, age matters" to a citywide principals meeting in Rochester and that he told Patterson-Grant and other top administrators they "all are old."

Brizard suggested they were part of "the old guard," according to the lawsuit, and that he wanted to get rid of them.

"Mr. Brizard is quoted as saying that you will 'retire in place' or 'RIP'. Comments that were made at various board meetings, that gave an inference of age discrimination and also there's an allegation that Mr. Brizard had made comments about the fact that the plaintiff was a strong, black woman and that's why they didn't get along," said Christina Agola, Patterson-Grant's lawyer in telephone interview.

In a response filed by school district lawyers, Brizard denies making the statements and denies firing Patterson-Grant for anything other than poor performance.

The case is still at least a year away from trial.

Before Patterson-Grant case was even brought to federal authorities, Rochester schools hired a private law firm to look at anonymous discrimination allegations against Brizard. That so-called "independent investigation" found he committed no wrong-doing.

The head of Mayor-elect Emanuel's transition team says Brizard was completely vetted. Emanuel spokespeople say that the independent investigation commissioned by the Rochester School District determined no wrongdoing.

They did not provide any comment about the determination of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that found otherwise.

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