Danedri Thompson
[email protected]
Attorneys for former Gardner Edgerton School District administrators and for the school district hammered out a schedule for a trial.
Former USD 231 superintendent Bill Gilhaus, former USD 231 executive director for administrative services Lana Gerber, and former USD 231 executive director of educational services filed a lawsuit against current USD 231 superintendent Pam Stranathan, the school district and four school board members last February.
The suit, filed in Kansas District Court on Feb. 24, names Tresa Boden, Brad Chandler, Mary Nelson and Rob Shippy as co-defendents, along with Stranathan and the entire district, alleging breach of contract in the dismissal of Gilhaus, Ziegler and Gerber. The board members and Stranathan are being sued in their individual or personal capacity for intentionally and maliciously conspiring to deprive the plaintiffs of their constitutional rights.
On Aug. 11, U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara conferenced with Dennis E. Egan, attorney for Gilhaus, Gerber and Ziegler, and David Cooper and Fahryn Hoffman, attorneys for the school district and school officials. The parties agreed to a trial schedule, which set Aug. 25 as a deadline for initial documents and disclosures to be exchanged.
Discovery is to be completed by April 16, 2016 and experts for plaintiffs disclosed by Nov. 16 of next year. The defendants will have until Dec. 15 to disclose experts. Both parties can disclose rebuttal witnesses – the plaintiff’s deadline is Jan. 11 and defendants’ deadline is Feb. 11. The schedule also lists deadlines for motions and challenges to admissibility of expert testimony.
A divided school board
See PARTIES, page 8
From PARTIES, page 1
terminated the contracts of Gilhaus, Gerber and Ziegler in February 2014. Their lawsuit seeks payment of back wages plus interest, court costs and expenses and punitive damages that “will punish these defendants and deter defendants and others from like conduct.”
The contracts of the three USD 231 administrators were terminated in 2014 during a contentious, special school board meeting. After a lengthy executive session on Feb. 24, 2014, a split board voted 4-3 to terminate the contracts of Gilhaus, Ziegler and Gerber. The same divided board named Stranathan as interim superintendent the same evening.
School district officials say there will be no public comment on the lawsuit.
The former administrators allege they were wrongfully terminated after years of favorable evaluations and in the case of Gerber and Ziegler, after several promotions.
The filing notes that Gilhaus’ contract allowed for termination provided he be provided a 30-day written notice of a breach of contract and that a reasonable opportunity to cure the breach must be provided.
Those conditions were not met, according to the court filing.
In addition to the unlawful termination, Gerber and Ziegler both allege that Chandler and Shippy “engaged in sexually discriminatory, demeaning, bullying, and unwelcome sexually-charged conduct.”
Gerber alleges that Shippy “made me uncomfortable with leering stares,” in a July 22, 2013 finance meeting.
Chandler, she said, commented on her skirt, how she dressed and how she looked.
Gerber alleges in the suit that Shippy made her “uncomfortable with his long leering stares, looking me up and down…” during an Aug. 6, 2013 meeting and called her “sweetie.”
According to the suit, that made her feel humiliated and threatened.
In another instance, Gerber said Chandler had to sit next to her in a Feb. 10 meeting due to lack of space elsewhere. She joked that he must have drawn the short straw. To which Chandler responded, “How do you know I have a short straw?” the suit alleges.
“The inappropriate and embarrassing statement made by Chandler and the approving laughter from Shippy was perceived as not only sexual harassment to Ms. Gerber as a female, but also highly improper behavior for board members,” the filing reads.
Gerber is now a middle school principal in the Blue Valley School District. Ziegler is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and assessment in the Shawnee Mission School District.
If the parties do not agree on a settlement or the court does not approve a motion to dismiss, the trial is set for 9 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2017.