A group of educators at Kemp Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring have filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County school board and Kemp Mill's principal, claiming years of systemic harassment, and neglect by the board to do anything about it.
Attorney Robert J. Weltchek, a senior partner at the law firm of Weltchek, Mallahan & Weltchek LLC in Lutherville, filed the suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday on behalf of six clients, including his daughter, Emily Weltchek, a former third-grade teacher at Kemp Mill.
"It is fortuitous that Emily is my daughter and I'm a trial lawyer," he said. "When I heard this story, I was sufficiently outraged, as a lawyer and a father, that nothing had been done over all these years. It seemed to me the only hope that these teachers have is litigation."
The group claims that since coming to lead Kemp Mill in 2007, Principal Floyd Starnes has engaged in "unabated and outrageous bullying behavior directed toward the Kemp Mill teachers, as well as the administrative and custodial staff," according to the lawsuit.
The teachers repeatedly took their concerns to Montgomery County Public Schools leadership, but according to the complaint, the Montgomery County Board of Education failed to intervene.
The lawsuit states that Starnes referred to students and staff as “babes” and “dolls," took young students into closets — some of whom emerged upset or crying — mooed like a cow at the staff over the intercom, retaliated against employees who reported issues, committed sexual harassment and bullying, created a hostile work environment where employees feared termination, and put false statements in staff evaluations.
Dana Tofig, spokesman for the county school system, said the board has not been served with the lawsuit, but is aware that a press conference was held Tuesday to announce the suit.
“We will respond to these allegations in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time,” he wrote in an email. “It is unfortunate that a group of people is using the media to make accusations — thus far proven to be overwhelmingly false and erroneous — against the principal of Kemp Mill Elementary School.”
Tofig said the allegations had been raised by some of the same employees in the past and have been the subject of proceedings at various levels, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In each one of these proceedings to date, these allegations were found to have little or no merit, he said, adding that the EEOC did not move forward with any of the complaints.
Attempts to reach Starnes on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said the union made a concentrated effort in recent years to work with its teachers at Kemp Mill to establish a positive work environment.