LSR-7 should avoid a jury trial at all cost on this suit

On the heels of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Lee’s Summit R-7 School District director of technology Dr. Amy Gates, the district now finds itself as a defendant in yet another case, this time for race discrimation and violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Danielle Nixon, the director of communications and community relations for the Raytown C-4 School District, filed the suit in late July against Lee’s Summit. It had been widely speculated (and confirmed via the legal petition) that Nixon had been a finalist for the communications director position that eventually went to Kelly Wachel in early 2018.


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There are so many layers to this and Gates’ lawsuit (aledging Sunshine Law violations) that it may take years to work through depositions, e-mails, interviews and, ultimately, jury or bench trials that could force principals, administrators and even civilians to take the stand.

What we know for sure is this: Wachel, Nixon and a third, unnamed school board member were finalists for the communications director job back in 2017. Who that board member is has not been released, but in the spirit of transparency it most definitely should be made public by the district.

According to the allegations in the petition, then-superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter told one or more of the interview panel of administrators who were conducting the communications interviews he would not hire an African American female as the lead of the communications department and further stated the district could not have two African Amercians in key positions.

These statements were allegedly made by Carpenter in February of 2018. During that month, Nixon met with both the panel of nine (which is believed to be the selection committee) and with six to seven members of the public that sit on the Citizens Advisory Committee and the business community.

Quoting directly from the lawsuit: “Upon information and belief one of the individuals involved in the interview process was present when Dr. Carpenter announced that he would not hire an African American Electronically Filed - Jackson - Kansas City - July 31, 2019 - 03:03 PM 5 for the position of Executive Director of Public Relations. Furthermore, Plaintiff believes that the individuals present when the statement was made have been interviewed by representatives of the District who have confirmed that Dr. Carpenter publicly admitted that he had disqualified Plaintiff based upon her race as an African American. That despite this unrefuted evidence, the District has failed to take any remedial action in violation of their stated EEO policy.”


Related

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A racial discrimination claim has resulted
in another lawsuit being filed
against the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District.


Somehow, the Missouri National Education Association became informed of the alleged illegal hiring criteria and contacted Nixon around September of 2018 to inform her of such.

Folks, this is messy. And it needs to be acknowledged and dealt with immediately.

And it may be addressed this December.

Also filed in the circuit court of Jackson County are papers ordering a case management conference and mediation between Nixon and the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. The conference is set for Dec. 9 in the Division 1 courtroom with Judge Sandra Midkiff. According to the document, the attorneys must be ready to discuss the following topics: trial setting; expert witness disclosure cutoff date; a schedule for the orderly preparation of the case for trial; any issues which require input or action by the Court; and the status of settlement negotiations.

It’s that last one that should catch your attention.

The district is likely going to push to settle this quickly and quietly.

The absolute last thing we need are administrators from transportation to human resources to principals in our buildings being subjected to lengthy and costly deposition hearings.

Legal issues and lawsuits crop up in our school districts regardless of who sits in the corner office. And far more often than not, the superintendent is named in the suits because they sit at the very top of the food chain.

In this case, the suit is a direct response to comments allegedly made by the then-superintendent.

Comments, if true, we should never tolerate and must be called out and called to action.

Full petition here; mediation notice here.

 

Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.