Former Gardner Edgerton School District Superintendent William Gilhaus has filed a lawsuit against USD 231, superintendent Pam Stranathan, and four school board members.
Former executive director of educational services Christy Ziegler and former executive director of administrative services Lana Gerber are listed as co-plaintiffs.
The suit, filed in Kansas District Court on Feb. 24, names Tresa Boden, Brad Chandler, Mary Nelson and Rob Shippy as co-defendants, 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.
The suit seeks that the district pay back wages to the plaintiffs 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 last February 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.
The attorney representing Gilhaus, Gerber and Ziegler has yet to return phone calls to The Gardner News.
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.
Former school board president Ron Ragan is quoted in the court filing. His statement says the district excelled under Gilhaus’ tutelage. Ragan’s statement lists district achievements such as the successful passing of two major bond issues, the attendance growth, and a top five ranking in Kansas as evidence of the success of Gilhaus’ leadership.
“When you compare these results to other metro districts is even more impressive,” Ragan is quoted in the filing. “This district achieved success at all levels elementary, middle school, and the high school level from academic to extracurricular activities without exception.”
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.