JOHNSTOWN - A former therapeutic staff worker at the Spring Cove Middle School in Roaring Spring has filed a federal lawsuit using "pretty strong" language to describe the racial and religious discrimination she said she suffered at the hands of students and colleagues that forced her resignation last year.
Carletta Nicholson of Altoona, an African-American and a Muslim, said she worked at the Middle School from 2009 through the 2012 school year, and during that time, she charges, she was subjected to insults on a daily basis, being called "Osama Mama," "a Muslim terrorist," "crack baby," "Killadelphia," "black people brought drugs to Altoona," "all blacks are on welfare," and a great many other comments.
While Nicholson worked in the Spring Cove School District, she was employed by Children's Behavorial Health Inc. of Johnstown, which provides
therapeutic services to school children.
As a therapeutic aide, Nicholson, for instance, would attend classes with a child assigned to her by the agency, and she would assist the youngster in his or her attempts to learn.
Nicholson claims that the agency's manager, who supervised her, did not help stem the tide of insults.
Her lawsuit contends "her complaints were ignored, and her requests for transfer denied."
She stated she also suffered from a medical condition that caused her to lose her hair, and she resorted to wearing a wig.
He physical appearance was also subject to insults, she stated.
Through her attorney, Brian R. Mildenberg of Philadelphia, a civil rights attorney, Nicholson is asking U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown to appoint a "civil rights monitor, master or trustee over the defendants in order to assure that defendants do not discriminate in the future."
She is seeking back pay, punitive damages and an order directing an end to racial discrimination by the school district and her employer.
Nicholson is suing under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Title VII of the civil Rights Act of 1967, The Americans With Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and a section of federal civil rights law barring retaliation.
A spokesperson for Children's Behavioral Health Inc. had no comment concerning Nicholson's action.
Attorney Carl P. Beard, whose law firm of Andrews and Beard serves as the solicitor to Spring Cove, said Superintendent Robert Vadella was served with the legal complaint last Thursday afternoon and sent it to his office.
Beard said "We will begin to look at the facts."
He said the acts Nicholson complained of allegedly occurred before Vadella assumed his job last summer, and the then-principal of the Middle School is retired.
He said school isn't in session, meaning his office has not had time to investigate the charges.
Beard said the language of the complaint is pretty strong, but he said until the solicitor and the district officials have the opportunity to investigate the facts, he can't comment about the charges.
"We'll get through it," Beard said, noting it may take a couple of weeks.
Vadella, who came to Spring Cove from State College, said that in his time in the district he hasn't witnessed any such activity as has been charged in the lawsuit.
He said he hasn't met people "who have shown this side."
Vadella said he was "rather surprised by the level and number of allegations."
Mildenberg said officials in the Cove have been aware of the possibility of a lawsuit, noting that discrimination charges were filed with the federal Equal Opportunity Commission, which on May 7, 2013, gave Nicholson the right to sue.
The lawsuit contends that during Nicholson's employment, she was "subjected to cruel comments regarding her medical condition, wig and eyebrows."
The suit contends she was discriminated against by teachers and administrators and made fun of by students, and it is noted she became the "laughing stock of the school."
She was forced to stop wearing her Muslim head covering, called a Kimar, because students would threaten to pull it off her head.
She was also denied her request to pray in an empty room and stated she was embarrassed to pray in front of others "because of the pervasively hostile environment toward her as a Muslim."
Gibson, as a first step, on Monday referred the case for alternative dispute resolution, an attempt to settle the case out of court.