1 minute read

Piscataway Township Board of Education v. Taxman

Taxman Fights Dismissal On Racial Grounds

In 1989, the Board of Education of Piscataway, New Jersey received instructions from the school's superintendent to lay off one of the teachers in its business department. At the time, two teachers with equal seniority--having started work on the same day nine years earlier--were on the staff: Sharon Taxman, who was white, and Debra Williams, who was African American. Williams was the only minority teacher in the business department staff. The board conducted a thorough review of the job performance of each teacher and concluded that they were of equal ability and with equal qualifications. In previous cases where seniority or job performance could not be used to determine which staff member to dismiss, the board had simply drawn lots or numbers out of a container. In this case, however, the superintendent of schools decided that affirmative action should be used to "break the tie" between the instructors. Accordingly, he instructed the board to retain Williams and dismiss Taxman. In his view, keeping the only African American teacher on the business faculty would send a message to Piscataway's racially mixed student body that the school board was committed to tolerance and diversity.

Sharon Taxman did not see the issue that way. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), contending that she had been laid off solely on the basis of her race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After attempts to resolve the dispute proved unsuccessful, she filed a lawsuit on those same grounds, gaining the support of the U.S. Justice Department. In her lawsuit, Taxman asked for back pay and reinstatement to her old position. In 1992, the board of education rehired Taxman. Nevertheless, she continued to pursue her suit to retrieve lost wages.

Taxman's case first came before a U.S. district court. The judge there ruled in her favor, holding the board liable for discrimination on the basis of race and awarding her $144,000 in damages. The court also ordered the board to give Taxman full seniority reflecting continuous employment from 1980. The board of education then appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. That court affirmed the district court's decision on 14 May 1996.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentPiscataway Township Board of Education v. Taxman - Significance, Taxman Fights Dismissal On Racial Grounds, Court Of Appeals Ruling, Dissent And Aftermath