The attorney representing the Gardner Edgerton School District’s former superintendent and two of his top administrators said Thursday that the three are filing federal gender discrimination and hostile environment complaints against the school board that fired them.
Dennis Egan of the Popham Law Firm said ex-superintendent Bill Gilhaus and administrators Christy Ziegler and Lana Gerber are filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission based on the circumstances surrounding their abrupt firings last month.
The EEOC will investigate. If it finds cause, it will allow the fired administrators to file a lawsuit in federal court. EEOC officials said Thursday they could not comment on any particular case.
According to Egan, Ziegler and Gerber had complained to their boss, Gilhaus, that two board members — Brad Chandler and Rob Shippy — treated them differently than male administrators working in the district office. Gilhaus took their complaint to the seven-member board.
“He was the messenger,” Egan said of Gilhaus. “He got wrapped into the retaliatory action.”
The day after learning about the women’s allegations of inappropriate, gender-offensive behavior on the part of the two board members, “my clients are suddenly and without notice, without warning, without any reasons given, they are fired,” Egan said. “These are people who have perfect records.”
He also claims that the firings were meted out during a specially called meeting for which the board gave no prior notice. Gilhaus was excluded from the executive session called during that special meeting. But Egan said Gilhaus’ contract with the district “makes it clear that before he can be terminated he has to be provided with written notice” outlining the reasons for ending the contract.
Egan said that did not happen and “my two female clients didn’t even know the meeting was taking place.”
Board members did not respond to calls or emails from The Star.
The board voted 4-3 on Feb. 27 to fire the administrators, with board members Mary Nelson and Tresa Boden joining Chandler and Shippy.
Three of those four members were elected to the board last April.
Egan says board members were warned by their attorney, Joe Hatley, that if the meeting was not publicly announced in advance, it would violate Kansas open meeting laws.
Hatley and his firm have given notice that they are terminating their contract for representing the school board.
“Our contract with the school district allows us to terminate that contract on 90 days’ notice, without cause, and we opted to exercise that right,” Hatley said Thursday in a statement. “The termination will be effective on June 4 or at such earlier time as the board retains a law firm to replace us.”