Metro-East News

Highland principal files sex discrimination lawsuit against district

Karen Gauen
Karen Gauen File photo

Karen Gauen, the principal of Highland High School, has filed a federal lawsuit against Highland Community Unit School District No. 5 and the board of education, accusing the the district of sex discrimination and unfairly paying her a smaller salary than less-qualified men who had served as the high school’s principal and assistant principal.

A school board member declined comment Saturday, saying he had just recently learned of the suit.

Gauen, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, alleges that the Highland school board paid her predecessor, Derek Hacke, a base salary of at least $25,000 per year more than it paid her to do the same job, even though he had 17 fewer years of experience as an educator and lacked Gauen’s qualifications, including two master’s degrees, a doctorate in educational administration and national board certification.

In addition, Highland paid Gauen less as the high school principal than it pays men who hold lower-level and less-responsible jobs, including as assistant principal, the suit says. In 2013-2014, Highland hired one of Gauen’s assistant principals, and paid him a base salary of $90,000 per year, while it paid Gauen a base salary of $89,000 a year, according to the lawsuit.

Gauen alleges that as a result of these pay inequities, she experienced “humiliation, upset, embarrassment, non-diagnosed emotional distress, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life,” while the school board’s conduct was “undertaken knowingly, willfully, maliciously or with reckless indifference to plaintiff's protected rights.”

Joe Mott, a Highland school board member, declined to discuss Gauen’s litigation when reached by phone at his home Saturday.

“I just heard about it (the lawsuit) last night, and I have no comment,” Mott said.

Gauen does not specify a dollar amount for the damages she is seeking, instead demanding “judgment in her favor and all relief to which she is entitled, including actual, compensatory, punitive and liquidated damages, equitable relief, attorneys' fees and the costs of this litigation, and such other relief as this Court finds shall be appropriate in the circumstances.”

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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