The Malverne Union Free School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Hunderfund and Malverne High School Principal Dr. Vincent Romano received a verdict in their favor by a federal jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip on March 16. The jury rendered a complete verdict for defendants in the case brought against them by plaintiff Sherwyn Besson.

Mr. Besson sued the district, superintendent, high school principal and assistant high school principal, claiming discrimination against him on the basis of his race by assigning him daily administrative duties while exempting some other teachers and retaliating against him for criticizing Superintendent Hunderfund at an October 2009 Board of Education meeting by reducing his position to part-time during school year 2011/2012.

The eight-person jury was asked to determine whether the District and its administrators’ actions violated federal and state anti-discrimination laws and federal laws prohibiting violations of the First Amendment. The jury unanimously found that the defendants did not discriminate against Mr. Besson on the basis of his race when determining his administrative assignments. The jury also unanimously found that Mr. Besson’s 2009 speech was not a motivating factor in the decision to reduce his position to part-time during school year 2011/2012.

Mr. Besson’s case is the second of three cases originally brought in one action by Betsy Benedith, Kenneth Smith and Sherwyn Besson, former employees of Malverne. On Aug. 15, 2014, the Honorable Arthur D. Spatt severed the three cases and dismissed several of the claims. On Dec. 9, 2015, following a trial, a jury unanimously found in favor of the District, Superintendent Hunderfund and Assistant Superintendent Rose Linda Ricca on Mr. Smith’s claims of discrimination.

The case was tried in three days before United States District Judge Joan M. Azrack. The lawyer who represented Sherwyn Besson was Jonathan A. Tand, Esq. of Garden City, New York. The District and its administrators were represented by Melissa L. Holtzer and Susan H. Odessky of Sokoloff Stern, LLP of Carle Place, New York.

“We are gratified that the jury has confirmed what the Board and administration always knew – this was a clear decision based upon seniority, with no other personal factors at play,” said Dr. Hunderfund.

The case filed by Betsy Benedith is still pending.