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Principal Can Sue for Superintendent Harassment

Deborah Elkins//August 9, 2012

Principal Can Sue for Superintendent Harassment

Deborah Elkins//August 9, 2012//

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A Big Stone Gap U.S. District Court says a female school principal has stated a valid hostile work environment claim based on allegations that she was sexually harassed by a male school superintendent the school board hired despite receiving information about his propensity for sexually inappropriate conduct directed against females.

Plaintiff’s complaint sets forth that the superintendent’s conduct was unwelcome and directed against her because of her sex. She further describes that the conduct occurred on a daily basis and consisted of sexually suggestive comments, unwelcome romantic overtures and other crude remarks that were inappropriate for the workplace. Moreover, plaintiff sets forth a direct basis for imputing liability to the school board. Specifically, she alleges the school board was provided with both written and oral information indicating the superintendent had a propensity to engage in sexually inappropriate conduct directed against females because of their sex, yet it elected to hire him in spite of this knowledge. I find that such allegations are sufficient to satisfy the pleading standards under Iqbal.

Although plaintiff alleges she was demoted after she complained about the superintendent, I find she has failed to allege sufficient facts to show a causal link between the claimed protected activity and the school board’s decision to demote her to a lower paying position. She offers no facts in support of this claim aside from the assumption of temporal proximity of the events at issue. The 4th Circuit has not adopted a bright temporal line, but it has held that a three-to-fourth month lapse is too long to establish a causal connection by temporal proximity alone. Here, there is no indication that plaintiff’s demotion very closely followed her report of the superintendent’s conduct. While it seems the two events occurred within the same school year, plaintiff does not specify exactly how much time elapsed between the two events. Without further evidence, I find that a causal connection is insufficiently pleaded in this case.

Plaintiff also has stated a claim for violation of her equal protection rights. She has alleged defendants acted intentionally with malice and in knowing violation of her constitutional rights in hiring the superintendent, and that the school board members were warned of the superintendent’s propensity to engage in sexually inappropriate conduct directed against women because of their sex, yet intentionally chose to hire him anyway. Taking these allegations as true, it is at least plausible that the school board members’ decision to hire the superintendent could be seen as intentional gender discrimination.

Motion to dismiss granted in part and denied in part.

Johnson v. Scott County School Board (Jones) No. 2:12cv00010, July 31, 2012; USDC Big Stone Gap, Va.; Gerald L. Gray, Edward G. Stout for plaintiff; W. Bradford Stallard for defendants. VLW 012-3-368, 14 pp.

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