Gender discrimination lawsuit by Grosse Pointe school official to enter settlement talks

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A former Grosse Pointe South High School assistant principal who accused the district of gender discrimination and retaliation in 2016 is entering settlement talks after a federal appeals panel ordered her case back to Detroit for a trial.

According to a 2016 lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit, Debra Redlin alleges she was transferred from South High School to a middle school in retaliation for complaints about her supervisor’s conduct, including an alleged comment about sex.

Grosse Pointe South High School

Redlin claims she was threatened with termination and transferred to Parcells Middle School in August 2015 after a year of escalating issues with Grosse Pointe South high principal Moussa Hamka.

In May 2018, U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman dismissed the case without oral arguments in favor of the school district.

Redlin appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in April reversed part of Friedman's ruling and sent the case back to Detroit for trial on gender discrimination and retaliation claims.

Redlin remains employed at Parcells as an assistant principal. Hamka is still at South.

Redlin’s attorney, Robert Palmer, said in a deposition that district superintendent Gary Niehaus said his decision to transfer Redlin was due to her complaints about Hamka.

"How can you say you are not retaliating against her when you say she can't go back?

"She was demoted because of her complaints," Palmer said.

In 2017, Redlin's request to return to South High where two assistant principal jobs were open was denied by Niehaus, who wrote in a letter that Redlin's "conduct in spreading rumors" about Hamka "destroyed" her trust with him.

On Tuesday, Niehaus said Friedman has asked for both parties to try mediation with a court-appointed magistrate.

"Nothing has been scheduled to date. We will meet for mediation when it is scheduled," Niehaus said.

According to Redlin's complaint, Hamka’s alleged comment about sex was listed among multiple “inappropriate behavior and comments” submitted by Redlin in 2014 to Jon Dean, the district’s deputy superintendent for educational services.

"Among various other complaints regarding Mr. Hamka’s inappropriate behavior, Plaintiff reported that Mr. Hamka would comment about cleaning himself before praying and note that one should clean themselves 'just as you do when you would be intimate with your wife,'" the complaint says

Redlin alleges her complaints also prompted the administration to dole out low-performance reviews that have prevented her from finding other employment.

After her transfer to Parcells, Redlin was paid at the lower rate for middle school assistant principals for two years, according to court records.

Niehaus claims this was in error and Redlin was given back pay for the two-year period consistent with a high school assistant principal’s salary, court records show. 

In 2015, Redlin filed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge against the district. The EEOC issued her a “right to sue” letter in August 2016.