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Fair,69°
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Malverne lawsuit set for trial
Claims racial discrimination in school employment
Howard Schwach
Malverne Schools Superintendent John Hunderfund, left, is a defendant in the lawsuit, while Sherwyn Besson, a former business teacher at the high school, is one of three plaintiffs.

After several delays, but with the discovery process winding down, the federal lawsuit brought by several Malverne Union Free School District employees against the district, its superintendent and several other employees will be coming to trial in the Eastern District courthouse in Islip in the next few months.

The case, alleging racial discrimination, was filed in 2011. The plaintiffs, all African-Americans, are Betsy Benedith, Sherwyn Besson and Kenneth Smith.

Benedith, a former Malverne High School assistant principal whom the district let go in June 2011 despite student protests, has accused Principal James Brown, who is black, of treating white employees more favorably in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety that favoring blacks might create.

Besson, once a full-time business teacher at the high school, claims he was subjected to increasing discrimination, resulting in the loss of his position. Besson further alleges that his two children, who were students in the district, were subjected to retaliation for his complaints of discrimination.

Smith, who taught math at the high school for five years, claims that the district discriminated against him in his course assignments and access to professional development, classroom equipment and economic opportunities. The final act of discrimination, he said, was his transfer from the high school to the Howard T. Herber Middle School.

“We think that we have a meritorious claim,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steven Morelli, told the Herald when the lawsuit was filed. “We feel that these individuals have been singled out based upon their race in an adverse way. It’s a situation where there seems to be something going on in Malverne when it comes to minority teachers.”

The suit names as defendants the school district, Superintendent James Hunderfund, Brown and two high school administrators, Assistant Principal Vincent Romano and math department Chairwoman Rosalinda Ricca. It lists alleged disparities in Brown’s treatment of his assistant principals, including giving more responsibility and opportunity to Romano while excluding Benedith from memos and, thus, important decisions.

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