Metro-East News

Highland responds to sex bias suit: Experience decides administrators’ pay

Karen Gauen
Karen Gauen

In court documents filed in response to a sexual discrimination lawsuit, the Highland School District said the salary of high school principal Karen Gauen was based on her experience, not her gender.

The district denied that it “discriminated in any way” against Gauen, who filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis on Feb. 26 against the district and school board, alleging she was paid less than her male colleagues to do the same jobs.

The district filed a response with the court to that suit on April 26, as well as a response with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit

In her lawsuit Gauen 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.”

The response

In its response to the EEOC, the school district said, “There is simply no evidence that gender played a role in the District’s salary determinations.”

The district contends its salary decisions were based, in large part, on previous administrative experience.

Gauen “fails to take into account the considerable administrative experience possessed by both her predecessors and successors,” the district said in its EEOC response.

The EEOC response went on to say that Gauen “is a competent administrator with excellent credentials, but she possessed considerably less administrative experience than her colleagues as both associate principal and principal when she started those positions.”

The district’s response said that Gauen had no prior administrative experience when she was hired as an associate principal for the 2012-2013 and was given an $80,000, one-year contract. Gauen had replaced Barry Thomas, who retired. Thomas’ salary was $115,607 his last year, according to the district. However, he had also had 26 years of administrative experience as of the 2011-2012 school year, the district said.

Steve Laxon, high school assistant principal and athletic director at the time Gauen was promoted to associate principal, also made more money than her. He made a base salary of $95,527. However, he had 17 years of administrative experience at that time, according to the district’s filings.

“As further evidence that its salary determinations are based on administrative experience and are applied equally across the sexes, the District hired Caleb Houchins for the 2015-2016 school year to replace Mr. Laxon as assistant principal and athletic director of the high school. Like the Complainant (Gauen), he possessed no prior administrative experience. The District, accordingly, paid him a starting salary of $70,000; $10,000 less than the District paid the Complainant,” the district’s EEOC response reads.

The district also addressed the salaries of Derek Hacke, who Gauen replaced as Highland High principal, and Chris Becker, who became high school associate principal when Gauen was promoted.

According to the district, Hacke’s $117,825 salary for this work in 2012-2013 as principal was based on his 12 years of administrative experience.

The district also said that Becker’s $90,000 salary was due to his eight years of prior administrative experience.

The EEOC response added further information on other past administrators.

In 2009-2010, Jeanie Probst was serving as middle school principal. At the time, she had five years of administrative experience and was paid $99,235. When Probst was replaced by Erick Baer, he had only had three years of administrative experience, therefore, he was only paid $75,000 for the same job, the filing said.

Other examples noted in the district’s EEOC filing included:

▪  Pat Schwarm, who served as assistant superintendent until 2001, had 17 years experience at that time and was paid $102,505. Her replacement, Marvin Warner, had 12 years experience and was paid a starting salary of $83,000.

▪  Lynn Newton replaced Andy Carmitchel in 2008 as assistant superintendent. At that time, she had five years experience and was paid $95,000. When she retired in 2013, she had 10 years under her belt and her salary had risen to $127,073.

▪  Derek Hacke replaced Newton in 2014. He had 13 years of administrative experience at the time, and his salary was $117,825.

“The District-wide hirings clearly demonstrate that salary determinations are based, in large part, on administrative experience, irrespective of an employee’s gender,” the EEOC response reads.

Gauen’s attorneys declined comment. Gauen continues to serve as principal of Highland High School.

Curt Libbra: 618-654-2366, ext 21

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