Elite Private School Accused of Racial Epithets, Bullying Of Hispanic Workers
Over the last 83 years, Landon School has turned thousands of boys into men. It has schooled them in the fundamentals of Western Civilization, rigorously instructed them in ethics and citizenship, and last year the private preparatory school sent 1 in 6 of its graduates off to the Ivy League.
And this week, a former executive at the school in Bethesda, Md., filed a $2 million lawsuit, claiming that he was fired for trying to put an end to a culture of discrimination there.
Tim Harrison (pictured at left with his wife), who was Landon's director of the Office of Finance and Operations, claims that several of the Hispanic maintenance workers who tend to the school's 75-acre campus have been routinely humiliated and degraded by their supervisors for years.
In a statement, the school said that Harrison's allegations were "both inaccurate and misleading," and that Landon will "defend itself accordingly."
Soon after Harrison started working at Landon in 2009, he hired a new supervisor, Pedro Robles, the former head of household at the Colombian embassy. Robles is Hispanic and bilinguial, so could easily communicate with the four Hispanic maintenance and cleaning staff members. The Hispanic employees quickly began complaining to Robles. They were bullied, they said. They were intimidated. They were abused with foul language and ethnic slurs.
Their two white supervisors, Joe Charvat and Paul Batten, regularly referred to these employees as "spics," according to Harrison's lawsuit, and one employee claimed that he overheard Charvat saying, "All Hispanics are idiots." One of Charvat's Hispanic subordinates claims in a signed affidavit, in support of Harrison's lawsuit, that "working for Charvat is torture" because he "treats me like garbage."
Another employee, who had been at Landon for 12 years, called it a "nightmare," and said in his affidavit that Charvat called Hispanic workers "stupid," "dumbass," "mother-f*****," "son of a bitch" and "piece of s***."
'A Horrible Situation'
"This has been a horrible situation for not a month or two, or a year or two, but for two decades, and it's been ignored," Harrison told AOL Jobs. "It's like nothing I've ever experienced in my working career. It's egregious, it's shameful and it needs to be stopped."
"To deal with that day in and day out, year in and year out," he added, "it brings tears to my eyes, it really does."
One day, Charvat allegedly complained to Harrison about "all the spics" working at the school. Harrison politely informed him that his own wife was from Puerto Rico. Charvat "turned red in the face," the lawsuit says.
Pedros also claimed that he was repeatedly yelled at, humiliated and abused by Charvat, and that Charvat regularly refused to work with him or let his subordinates help Robles' subordinates.
Harrison complained several times about the abuses, he says, and finally urged the school's headmaster, David M. Armstrong, to discipline or fire Charvat and Batten, but Armstrong refused.
Harrison also hired a consultant to examine the executive salaries at Landon to ensure that they were in compliance with IRS "excess benefit rules" for tax-exempt organizations, like schools. The consultant was shocked when he estimated that the headmaster's total yearly compensation package was $800,000 -- 50 percent to 70 percent higher than that of headmasters at other similarly situated schools. He said that he thought Armstrong was one of the top 10 highest compensated headmasters in the country.
Abrupt End To Employment
Harrison raised this concern to the chairman of the school's board, according to his lawsuit, and he replied that Armstrong's salary was reasonable. In January of this year, the headmaster told Harrison that the school board had "lost confidence" in him, and he wouldn't be renewing Harrison's contract.
It was a dramatic change in tone from contract time in 2011, when Armstrong had attached a handwritten note to Harrison's renewed contract, applauding his "profound skill," "entrepreneurial spirit," "out-of-the-box thinking," "superb 'first impression,'" and telling Harrison that he looked forward "to more years of working with you."
Five weeks after he was told that his contract was ending, Harrison submitted a list of the discriminatory acts to the school's board of trustees. On the next workday, Harrison was told to never to come back.
It was unlucky timing for someone whose job is based on a school-year schedule. "They essentially froze me out of the job market for at least a year," said Harrison, who has worked in these positions for over two decades. He worries about interviewing for future jobs. "The private school community is a very closed community," he said.
Harrison is now suing the school, saying that he was fired illegally out of retaliation. He seeks: reinstatement to his job, or full pay and benefits for three years; damages for lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, loss of opportunity and reputation; and punitive damages. In total, they're requesting damages in excess of $2 million. Five Hispanic employees have written affidavits in his support.
Landon denies the accusations, and says the school "has a longstanding commitment to treat all members of the community -- employees, students, and others -- fairly and without regard to race, ethnicity or gender."
"Landon has policies and procedures in place ensure that reports of improper behavior are considered promptly and fully," the statement continues, "and appropriate actions are taken."
Series Of Scandals
This is only the latest in a series of recent incidents involving Landon which seem to clash with the all-boys school's supposed focus on character and civility. In 2010, a group of its students devised a game in which they scored points for having sexual encounters with particular girls -- whose weights, heights and bra sizes were listed as if in a fantasy football league draft. The boys were caught and given a weeklong in-school suspicion -- a punishment viewed by some as light.
That same year, one of the school's former star lacrosse players and football quarterbacks, George Huguely V, was arrested after the death of his ex-girlfriend. In February, Huguely was found guilty of second degree murder.
Among the other developments, parents of Landon students have complained about a coach who allegedly told their children intimate details of his sex life and took them to Hooters, and school trustees decided to investigate the long-held suspicion that Landon treated wealthy boys and good athletes preferentially. In its account of these troubling events at Landon, The Washington Post reported that a top official said in a school assembly that he knows parents who don't want their daughters "hanging out with Landon guys."
"To us, it seems that there's a connection between these scandals of the past, and the choices of the leadership," said Adam Carter, Harrison's co-counsel and a partner at The Employment Law Group firm. "This is a once-great institution that has lost itself under this leadership."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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