When Eldon Watson publicly alleged in July 2002 that Mercer Area School District officials discriminated against him, Principal Dr. Michelle Rhule took it personally.

“It concerned my integrity,” she said Tuesday, the second and final day in the federal civil trial initiated by Watson’s lawsuit.

She called the charges that Watson was not hired for a full-time teaching job because of his age and gender “outrageous” and said she became emotional and upset.

Dr. Rhule, who has since become the elementary principal in the Lakeview School District, let other district officials know she would be “uncomfortable” calling Watson in to substitute, something he had done regularly and satisfactorily for three years.

When then-Superintendent Dr. Lawrence R. Connelly Jr. got wind of her intent, he told her not to be ridiculous, she said.

Connelly said it was inappropriate and unfair to Watson not to call him. Watson had a right to pursue legal action against the school district, which he had said he was going to do, and that it should not hurt his ability to substitute.

“I knew at that point I was being ridiculous,” Dr. Rhule said, and put Watson back on the list.

However, Watson, of East Lackawannock Township, claimed he was never called after the fall of 2002, and said district officials were retaliating against him for making his allegations and pursuing legal action.

District officials said Watson or his wife told them he no longer wanted to substitute.

As Dr. Rhule, now a Mercer school director, remembered it, Watson stopped in the office in September or early October 2002, and told her he would fulfill the days he had already been scheduled to work, but would not sub anymore. That’s when he stopped being called, she said.

Watson responded that he never told Dr. Rhule he didn’t want to sub.

“I wanted to teach every day,” he said.

Connelly, who was not involved in the choosing and calling of substitute teachers, said Dr. Rhule had told him that Watson’s wife, Cyndi, had told school secretary Linda Ryan that her husband did not want to sub anymore.

Ms. Ryan said the conversation occurred Sept. 16, 2002, when she called at the last minute seeking a half-day cafeteria monitor, a job that Watson had apparently never been asked to do before. Mrs. Watson asked again what school was calling and responded, “Oh no, he won’t do that,” Ms. Ryan said. Mrs. Watson did not say her husband would not work for Mercer again or ask that he be taken off the sub list, Ms. Ryan said.

Mrs. Watson’s recollection added yet another story for U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Francis X. Caiazza, Pittsburgh, to ponder. She said she spoke to Assistant Principal Dr. Cynthia Portman that day and told her Watson was unavailable because he was working at another school.

School officials said Watson was not hired for the full-time job because of a poor interview in April 2002.

Dr. Portman, now a principal with the Leechburg school district, said she had concerns similar to Dr. Rhule’s stemming from the interview of Watson they conducted with school board member Albert French.

Watson’s crying during the interview — Watson claimed no tears fell — showed a lack of emotional control, she said. His college grades were poor — a 2.71 GPA overall, although he scored better in the late ’90s, when he returned to school, than he had done in the ’70s.

“With the amount of people looking for jobs, it’s very competitive,” she said. “I just wondered why he couldn’t retake courses with D’s.”

Dr. Portman also said she was uncomfortable with Watson’s statement that he felt state standards focused too much on reading, math and writing.

“State standards are required,” she said. “As teachers, we had to teach the state standards.”

Dr. Portman said she gave Watson the lowest possible score, as Dr. Rhule had done.

Dr. Portman added that Watson’s age was not discussed, nor was any other candidate’s age.

Dr. Rhule, of Mercer, testified she did not how old Watson — now 52 — was.

Connelly who, like Dr. Rhule, is specifically named in the suit, said he had nothing to do with Watson not being hired. The committee was responsible for screening applicants and setting up interviews, and he only interviewed the candidates the committee recommended, then made a recommendation to the school board for official action.

He said he learned somewhere along the line that Watson had been interviewed — probably before May 5, 2002, the date he wrote a recommendation letter on Watson’s behalf — and Dr. Rhule told him she felt “kind of bad it didn’t work out.”

Connelly, of Hermitage, said he did not suspect Dr. Rhule had made recommendations based on age.

Watson’s attorney, Brian Samuel Malkin of Wexford, tried to undermine Dr. Rhule’s reasons for not hiring Watson. She had said there were inconsistencies in his application and his college transcript as to his grade point average, and showed that a teacher who was hired had listed a GPA different than what her transcript showed.

Regarding Dr. Rhule’s claim that Watson was familiar with the school’s educational philosophy because of nearly daily bulletins she put out, Watson responded that those bulletins were not distributed to substitutes, and full-time teachers had told him they were not to share the bulletins with nonregular staff.

Malkin and defense attorney John W. Smart of Pittsburgh rested their cases Tuesday and decided not to deliver closing arguments. Caiazza said he did not need to receive final briefs from the lawyers.

Malkin said Caiazza likely would rule in about a month by posting an opinion.

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