'I have never been treated this badly.' Massillon teacher nears lawsuit settlement
MASSILLON – A teacher is nearing a settlement over her federal discrimination lawsuit against the Massillon school board, accusing it of failing to stop a fellow teacher’s sex-based harassment and for allowing administrators and colleagues to retaliate against her for lodging the complaints.
Monica Shrader, who has taught in various positions within the Massillon City School District since 2000, filed the lawsuit in September in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit alleges the discrimination and retaliation she has undergone since 2020 were due to her sex, which is a protected class under federal law.
Shrader and the school board notified U.S. District Court Judge Benita Y. Pearson last month that they had reached a settlement. But Superintendent Paul Salvino said Wednesday the settlement has not yet been signed. He said the school board would need to vote on the settlement once it has been finalized.
Shrader had been seeking an unspecified amount of back and front pay, compensatory damages and other fees and costs.
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Salvino declined further comment due to the pending litigation. Messages left with Shrader and her attorney, John Myers, were not returned.
Why did the Massillon teacher say happened?
In the lawsuit, Shrader said the harassment began in 2020 when she was teaching seventh grade students at Massillon Junior High. She said a male teacher frequently made sex-based derogatory remarks and gestures aimed at her.
Among the incidents she cited: He would make pecking sounds and mimic a nagging hen in front of students when she entered the room; tell her to not speak in staff meetings because she talked too much; described her as "cold-blooded” to students and in front of her student teacher; told students that he didn’t want to look at her face and made up a song about her. He also mocked her concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus by licking the shared classroom’s computer keyboard, coughing on the classroom phone and passing gas on the teacher’s chair before she entered the room, according to the lawsuit.
She said the male teacher also violated the administration’s directive that they avoid each other by intentionally standing in front of the classroom door when she was scheduled to leave and standing outside the classroom loudly socializing with other teachers.
After telling him to stop his “condescending and disrespectful” behavior in January 2021, Shrader said she felt physically threatened by him when he verbally assaulted her in front of her student teacher, calling her an idiot.
Shrader then noticed that other seventh grade teachers became distant and no longer wanted to socialize or meet with her to discuss and plan curriculum for their mutual students, the lawsuit states.
The district’s investigation of Shrader’s complaint in March 2021 found the male teacher, who had disputed some of the allegations, behaved in an unprofessional manner but his actions did not violate the school board’s policy on gender discrimination.
The male teacher was transferred to the high school a few weeks later.
Teacher also filed discrimination complaints with U.S. EEOC
Besides filing complaints with the district, Shrader also filed two discrimination complaints – one in April 2021 and one in March 2022 – with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the complaints, Shrader said she had been subjected to sex-based disparate treatment retaliation by the school administrations and her peers. The U.S. EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue for each charge, according to exhibits filed in court.
“I have been a teacher for over 20 years,” Shrader wrote in her March 2022 EEOC complaint. “This is the first time I had to resort to a complaint about sex-based discrimination and it has resulted in the administration targeting me rather than taking any action to remedy the situation. I have never been treated this badly in the workplace.”
Shrader cited several incidents that she believes show how administrators retaliated against her after she filed the complaints: The district launch an investigation against Shrader for creating a hostile work environment during the same month she filed her complaint against the male teacher; administrators’ attempts to get other seventh grade teachers to write statements against her; the principal’s decision not to notify her that a teacher she had interacted with had tested positive for COVID-19 even though all other teachers were contacted; her relocation to a classroom away from all other teachers and the ongoing way administrators ignored her attempts to talk about concerns she had regarding unruly student;, ignored her request to have her room treated for bed bugs; and failed to properly discipline students who assaulted her including one who left her with a back injury.
Shrader said the stress of the situation has forced her to take multiple sick days and to take a different teaching position within the district that would not require her to work with the seventh grade teachers who had ostracized and retaliated against her.
What have the school board’s attorneys said in court?
In the school board’s response to the court complaint, attorneys said the district complied with its policies and applicable law, and it did not retaliate, discriminate or treat Shrader differently than similarly situated individuals. The attorneys also said that Shrader did not exhaust her administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit, and the district is entitled to immunity.
According to the Massillon City Schools’ website and state educator records, Shrader now teaches classes at the intermediate and junior high schools. The male teacher now works at Whittier Elementary.
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This article originally appeared on The Repository: Massillon City Schools faces federal sex discrimination lawsuit