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Veteran Atlanta teachers say “culture change” meant age discrimination

Former Atlanta teachers claim in a federal age discrimination lawsuit that hundreds of older educators were forced out of their jobs in Atlanta Public Schools as a new administration tried to turn around local schools after a cheating scandal.

“After the big cheating scandal they brought in someone and basically her philosophy was, I’m going to change the culture of APS,” said Lori Hamilton, an attorney representing the teachers. “And that meant out with the old.”

The school district has denied it discriminated against older teachers and said in court filings that any adverse employment decisions were “the result of legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.” An Atlanta Public Schools spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment this week.

More than 60 percent of Atlanta teachers were over 40 when Superintendent Meria Carstarphen was hired in 2014, a percentage that remained unchanged as of last year, the district said in court filings.

But the teachers who filed the suit claim the district “cultivated an environment that is openly hostile to teachers over the age of 40.”

“APS routinely keeps very close supervision on older teachers in hopes of finding something wrong, gives them worse evaluations than younger and less experienced teachers, reassigns them to schools that are more difficult to work in, tells them that they impact the budget and pension fund too much, and repeatedly makes demeaning and derogatory statements to its older teachers,” the suit claims.

Teachers named in the suit say they weren’t given the chance to apply for open jobs after their positions were eliminated, and they didn’t get access to the same training or equipment as younger teachers.

The teachers want Atlanta Public Schools to stop the alleged discrimination, award back pay and damages and offer them their jobs back.

The teachers’ case recently cleared an initial legal hurdle to being considered a class-action lawsuit, allowing lawyers to send out notices to other teachers potentially affected.

In a separate pending lawsuit, another group of former Atlanta educators is suing the school district in connection with the decision to hire charter school groups to manage several low-performing schools.

Employees at the school currently run by a charter school group lost their jobs — though some were eventually hired back — and dozens more are expected to lose their jobs in the coming years as more schools come under outside management.

In the suit, the former educators say hiring the charter school groups violated their tenure rights as well as state laws governing the creation of charter schools.

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