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Discrimination lawsuit filed against Turkish-run charter school

A former English teacher at Truebright Science Academy Charter School has filed a civil rights suit alleging the Turkish-run charter discriminated against employees based on gender and national origin.

Regenna A. Jalon, who worked at the North Philadelphia school for four years, said in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in late February that the school engaged in a pattern of hiring, promoting and paying less-qualified Turkish nationals more than American-born educators who were certified and had more experience.

A Truebright attorney said the school denied any wrongdoing when the suit surfaced during a hearing Thursday on the charter school's renewal.

Jalon was one of at least nine Truebright staffers who filed initial discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011. She filed her suit in federal court after the EEOC issued a letter in January that said she could proceed with a lawsuit.

Truebright, which is one of more than 130 charter schools across the country linked to a controversial Turkish imam, is fighting to remain open. The school is being reviewed by the district on whether its charter should be renewed. A hearing will resume on April 26.

Truebright's board, top administrators and a third of its teachers are Turkish. Many of them are working in the United States on nonimmigrant visas.

Jalon's suit contends Truebright engaged in "a concerted effort to deprive" non-Turkish staffers of the ability to earn as much as the Turkish male employees.

The complaint also charges that Jalon was abruptly demoted from the post of English department chair in late August two days after she testified at the charter-renewal hearing.

According to the suit, Truebright officials retaliated against Jalon after learning at the hearing that she had filed complaints with the district and the state Department of Education in 2011 outlining alleged improprieties at the school.

During Thursday's hearing, a district lawyer attempted to introduce the suit as evidence to support the School Reform Commission's contention that Truebright's board had failed to address concerns of parents and staff, including discriminatory employment practices.

Brian H. Leinhauser, Truebright's attorney argued that Jalon's complaint was not relevant to the charter's renewal and should not be admitted.

"The inclusion of mere allegations is extraordinarily prejudicial to my client," Leinhauser told Phinorice J. Boldin, the hearing officer.

He added: "The school denies any wrongdoing."

Boldin, an outside attorney who is serving as the district's hearing officer, said she would take the matter under advisement.

The hearing stems from Truebright's appeal of a vote last spring by the School Reform Commission not to renew its operating charter on 18 grounds, including poor academic performance and lack of certified teachers.

After the hearing is over, Boldin will send a report to the SRC, which will take a final vote on whether to renew the school's operating charter.