Ex-Wicomico Employees Seek $3M In Civil Suit

SALISBURY — Two former Wicomico County Board of Education administrators last week filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court seeking $3 million in damages and injunctive relief against their former employer, citing a long pattern of gender and age discrimination and harassment.

Former Wicomico County School Board administrators Stacy Messick and Stephanie Moses were terminated in January 2012 after filing a complaint alleging a pattern of  sex and age discrimination and harassment. The suit filed against the Wicomico County Board of Education and Superintendent John Fredericksen is seeking $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages along with back pay and benefits and injunctive relief.

“This is an employment discrimination case brought by former county employees alleging a continuing series of discriminatory conduct against them because of their sex and age,” the complaint reads.

The allegations include but are not limited to female employees being subjected to unwarranted criticism and disparagement of their work without cause; being subjected to threats and harassment at work; being subjected to humiliation, embarrassment and invasion of their privacy; being subjected to harsher discipline than male employees for the same or comparable alleged conduct; and being subjected to criticism due to their youth and the impact that has on the creditability and efficacy.

In September 2011, the plaintiffs were issued disciplinary memos citing a series of random and sporadic offenses including alleged same offenses for which their male counterparts in the office were guilty, although none of the male employees in the department received similar memos. The plaintiffs Messick and Moses then submitted a detailed rebuttal and a request to have the disciplinary memo removed from their employment files.

In October 2011, after the requests to have the memos removed from the plaintiffs’ files were not granted and no further action was taken by the board, the plaintiffs filed an appeal and a discrimination complaint with the Board of Education. Once the plaintiffs filed a discrimination complaint, the alleged harassment and discrimination only intensified.

For example, the plaintiffs discovered Frederickson directed the technology services department at the school board to carefully examine the plaintiffs’ internet usage. When asked why they were singled out for the Internet usage audit, Messick and Moses were told the reason for the directive was “concerns with productivity,” according to the complaint.

“The defendant Fredericksen has yet to state a sufficient legal reason or cause for ever searching and copying the computers as this act has never occurred with other executive employees,” the complaint reads. “The disparate treatment and temporal proximity of the plaintiffs’ filing of an appeal and discrimination complaint is glaring.”

By November 2011, it became apparent the Board of Education was not taking the plaintiffs’ filing of a discrimination complaint and appeal seriously. According to the complaint, the Board did not understand its own anti-discrimination policy and had to have it explained to them by the plaintiffs, who were the Board’s Title VII and Title IX coordinators and whose jobs were related to handling such complaints. Creating a further conundrum, Messick and Moses were administrators charged with handling discrimination complaints and the only higher-up they could go to was Fredericksen, who was one of the subjects of the complaint in the first place.

In December 2011, Fredericksen allegedly notified the plaintiffs he was aware they had been in contact with the president of the local teacher’s union, which was of “great concern” to him. Fredericksen at that point told the plaintiffs adverse employment action could be taken against them.