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News 2 Investigates: School accused of discrimination

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IBERVILLE PARISH - A former principal at East Iberville School filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the school system, alleging she was transferred and ultimately fired because she is white.

Maria Delouise served as principal for East Iberville School for more than two years. In her lawsuit, she claims Superintendent Ed Cancienne told her "it wasn't about her job performance but her skin color."

On March 23, 2010, court documents show Delouise was told by Cancienne she would be transferred out of the school.

"Dr. Cancienne told her she was going to be demoted, moved from the school," Delouise's attorney, Robert Campbell said. "He told her it was not about her job performance but based on her color. She was not the right color for the school."

The school system swiftly moved Delouise to another school three months later, at the same pay rate. She was replaced by Michael Eskridge, who is an African American. Delouise filed an EEOC charge the following year and was demoted to librarian two months later.

"What people don't realize is the law applies to everybody," Campbell said. "It doesn't matter what color you are. You can be discriminated against if you are black, white. The law applies to everybody and that's what we have in this case."

Court documents also show in taped depositions, high ranking school board members stated convicted felon, George Grace, the ring leader of a federal bribery sting and former Mayor of St. Gabriel wanted a black principal at the school. At least one high ranking school board employee claims, Grace even threatened to break the school away from the district if he didn't get his way.

Attorney Mike Fontham is representing the Iberville Parish School Board.

"It had absolutely nothing to do with race," Fontham said. "Dr. Cancienne was forthright. I want a balance on the east side. I don't' want to have all administrators either white or African American. He said I want a strong black principal at that school."

Defense lawyers for the school system believe Delouise was falling short when it came to daily operations of the school. They claim it's reflected on her annual evaluations which we requested but didn't receive.

"She had multiple needs improvement in administration," Fontham said. "Things like finances, coping with faculty and dealing with administrative matters."

Delouise's lawyer calls those claims false. He wants a jury to decide what is right to make Delouise whole.

"We have actual witnesses who heard the testimony," Campbell said. "Usually we have to prove these cases through circumstantial evidence. This is very different. Most people don't come out and say they are moving people because of race."

When asked why the superintendent made any comment to do with race, and didn't just pick the best person for the job, Fontham said Cancienne "wasn't going to put anyone in there on race alone."

"He wanted someone who would be a strong administrator. He found one that was African American. His comment was, I want a balance," Fontham said.

In the course of about 15 months, Delouise went from making about $95,000 as a principal to $61,000 as a librarian. She is no longer employed by Iberville Parish.

The attorney representing the town of St. Gabriel and George Grace claims he never said anything about a black principal leading East Iberville School. Defense lawyers have filed motions to have the lawsuit tossed. A judge has not taken that up yet.

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