Monday, April 19, 2010

Anniversary Recap

I've gotten a few questions on Jill Cowan's suit at Jesse Clark Middle School recently. So the following is a little recap. The matter is still under litigation.

Jessie Clark Middle School Counselor Jill L Cowan sued the Fayette County Public Schools about a year ago, alleging she was denied an opportunity for promotion because of her gender. She is suing in Fayette Circuit Court for damages and a jury trial. The defendants are the Fayette County Board of Education, FCPS Superintendent Stu Silberman, Jesse Clark Principal Lisa Goodin, and former FCPS Middle School Director Michael Ernst. The administrators are being sued individually as well.

KSN&C Backstory:

Cowan alleges that Principal Goodin refused to interview her for a new associate principal position because Cowan is a woman.

At the time, Fayette County was toying with a counter suit. FCPS spokeswoman Lisa Defendall told Jim Warren of the Herald-Leader that the district had turned the suit over to its attorney (Bob Chenowith) for review.

"We fully intend to contest these unfounded allegations in court," Deffendall said. "There have also been some discussions about the possibilities of a countersuit."

It was yet another case of He Said, She Said - but with two “shes.”

Cowan's complaint alleged that Goodin refused to interview her for a promotion to associate principal after telling her that she intended to hire a man, was only interviewing men and that a man had, in fact, been hired. Shades of Booker T Washington Academy.

If true, that's a No- No. But who knows? It does begs the question; According to the record, who was actually interviewed?

Otherwise, she wanted a promotion and the boss said, “No.” There are no individual guarantees. Last time I looked, women were well-represented among FCPS Administrators. Has that changed?

Cowan was apparently mad at Ernst because he did not wade in and force Goodin to (interview or hire) her, and more as well.

Salt the wound; H-L reported that Cowan contacted the school district's civil rights compliance officer on April 11, 2008, only to be suspended from her job the same day. According to Cowan, her suspension was based on claims that she had returned to school late after a meeting and had been "unprofessional" in a phone conversation with Goodin.

The suit also acknowledges that Silberman concluded, after the fact, that Cowan had not committed any acts warranting a reprimand.

But Cowan says it got personal. Her complaint states she was the target of "purposeful, intentional, negligent and reckless misconduct and retaliation" by various school officials, who intended to "harm and disparage her in her personal and professional life."

Cowan alleges that Goodin continued to treat her in an "unlawful and disrespectful manner" and that officials continued a "pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory treatment" against her. She alleges that this included "defamatory statements" suggesting that she was unfit to perform her duties.

Cowan told H-L that she subsequently was not rehired as assistant girls' track coach at Jessie Clark — a post she'd held for five years — and was removed from a paid position as an extended school tutor.

I don't know if the case was outsourced or handled in-house, but it is certainly the kind of legal work one would consider for outsourcing.


Anonymous said...

Once again...Thank you. I think your coverage of the guidance counselor at Jesse Clark is excellent. The only thing that disappoints me is that there is so much litigation in our school district.

Is it just me, or are these high profile lawsuits increasing under the current leadership of FCPS?Under Peter Flynn, the only lawsuit I remember was Melinda Cobb at Leestown. And I think it was well-known that he left because of his inability to keep the Board up-to-date on her supposed transgressions.

Richard Day said...


In a district the size of Fayette County there is always going to be some amount of litigation and some of it will occur under the radar. That's why I don't think legal needs in the smaller school districts provide a good comparison with Fayette County. Jefferson County provides a better comparison.

I ran into Ray Woodyard last week and we were discussing the differences between admninistration in FCPS and smaller Ky districts. Ray is retiring from Anderson Co and I used to be in Kenton Co. We think the whole atmosphere is different - mostly because of the distance between the principals and the superintendent in larger districts.

I don't think litigation is necessarily attributable to the superintendent - except when it is, i.e. Petrilli. There, Silberman was forced to make a choice figuring that one side or the other was likely to come after him. He chose.

And there was at least one other personnel situation in FCPS that could have produced a law suit but didn't because the personality of the "offended party" was such that the individual chose to go quietly. Plus, principals are easily demoted and are without substantial legal protections.

The claims that have gone forward seem to center around civil rights issues. These issues are only truly tested when one choses to go through the gut wrenching process of a trial. That's not everyone's idea of a good time.

So superintendents, and other school administrators, are under tremendous pressure to create improved student achievement as measured by test scores. They are changing lots of things in an effort to move the numbers and sometimes, certain people can be seen as "getting in the way." When one person's beliefs or rights clash with a powerful mission it can lead to problems.

I have a sign on my office window that reads: If nobody's getting in your way, you're not going anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I was told by a wonderful KEA rep years ago that it is not worth fighting FCPS. I disagree. I remember when a Henry Clay teacher activist was fired for her protest activities. She fought back and won and Superintendent Tennant was rebuked for saying she was a "poor role model."