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I feel I'm being harassed by my principal. Can I sue?

I believe that I am being harassed and work in a hostile environment. My principal singles me out. Unlike other teachers, I am forced to turn in written lesson plans. My class is visited and observed more often than anyone else's. The stress is getting to me, and I want to sue.

VEA will try to help you meet your workplace responsibilities, cope with workplace stress, and understand your legal rights. But the pressure created by intense supervision may not constitute illegal harassment or create a hostile work environment. Usually your employer is allowed to manage and evaluate -- to tell you what, where, when, and how to do your job, and to observe you doing it. Being "singled out" is only a problem if you prove that your selection was based on something the law limits employers from using as the basis for employment decisions.

There is no general cause of action for "harassment" or "hostile environment." Lawsuits on those grounds are usually claims for illegal discrimination in violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act cover very specific forms of discrimination-race, gender, national origin, religion, age, and disability-and prohibit retaliation for exercise of rights under those laws. EEO statutes restrict an employer from basing employment decisions on grounds specified by law, and the complainant has the burden of proving discrimination as defined by statute.

I appreciate your concern that you are treated differently, and that the principal may be biased or have favorites. But EEO laws do not impose general standards requiring employers to be fair. Your principal may be allowed to practice triage or selective enforcement. A state trooper is allowed to pull one speeder over for a ticket when others were driving even faster; and traffic overall may slow down because others see one person pulled over.

Please make an appointment with your VEA/NEA UniServ Director (UD). Bring background information including a chronology of events, copies of your communication with the principal, and records such as evaluations or observations. Your UD may help you identify specific violations of school board policies and procedures that can be the subject of a grievance, request some assistance and remediation from your school administration, document your efforts to carry out all administrative directions, question directions that you consider unreasonable or unfair, get professional training and support to improve your classroom skills, or get help coping with the stress. As a VEA member, you can get help whether you have a principal who crossed a legal line that gives you grounds to press criminal charge or legal complaint -- or just have a difficult job and boss.


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