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Jefferson City Public Schools named in gender discrimination suit

Jefferson City Public Schools named in gender discrimination suit

Male staff member files federal lawsuit, alleging unequal pay

April 8th, 2018 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Jefferson City Public Schools administration building at 315 E. Dunklin St.

A new lawsuit was recently filed in federal court against Jefferson City Public Schools, even as the district has reached a settlement in another lawsuit and still faces a third active suit against it.

Robert Jones, of Jefferson City, is the plaintiff in a suit against JCPS that was filed March 15 in the U.S. District Court for Western Missouri. Jones is represented by a Liberty-based lawyer, R. Mark Nasteff Jr. of Nasteff and Quinn, LLC.

The sole count of the suit in the filed complaint alleges JCPS violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a federal labor law.

The Equal Pay Act "prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions," according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Jones alleges his job responsibilities in his position as E2020 supervisor at Jefferson City High School were the same as female counterpart teachers there, but he was paid a lower wage than the teachers.

He told the News Tribune on Friday his position of E2020 supervisor is non-certified.

The district maintains among its affirmative defenses to his complaint that he was not a teacher during the time period referenced in the complaint and he did not meet the qualifications to be a teacher at the time.

But Jones said he has a teaching certificate and has been placed in a position charged with the duties of a teacher.

He received certification from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in April 2012 to teach high school social studies. His teaching certification and "content substitute" certification are listed as active through 2020. DESE also lists Jones' position in the current 2017-18 school year is full-time.

E2020 is a computer-based academic credit recovery program for students.

"Any course that is needed to graduate can actually be taken in my classroom" — social studies, math, science, history, through recorded lectures, Jones said.

His complaint says he was hired by JCPS in the 2014-15 school year as E2020 supervisor, and he had a contract to be paid $25,000 for the position.

"Mr. Jones questioned why his pay was not according to the teacher pay scale when his assigned duties included classroom duties and teaching," according to the complaint, adding Jones in his position has allegedly worked with special education and English Language Learner students "consistent with the way classroom teachers handle such matters."

Jones' pay was allegedly then reduced to $22,000 after he questioned it. He reportedly filed a grievance that he was not paid according to the teacher wage scale.

For the 2015-16 school year, the complaint states he was given a raise to $30,000, but he said the wage still was not commensurate with what teachers who had his degree and level of experience were being paid.

His complaint asks the federal court for a jury trial and liquidated damages of $300,000, plus legal costs including attorneys' fees and punitive damages — "additional affirmative relief as this court deems just and proper." The damages the complaint asks the court to order JCPS to pay are to make Jones "whole for his loss of income and fringe benefits."

The complaint also asks the court grant him a permanent injunction that would enjoin JCPS from Equal Pay Act violations or retaliation against him.

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The school district is represented in the suit by Chris Rackers and Ryan Bertels of Schreimann, Rackers & Francka, LLC.

The district has filed an answer to Jones' complaint that denies his allegations. The answer lists several affirmative defenses to the allegations, including that Jones' complaint is barred by statute of limitations, the alleged pay disparity — which the school district denies — was the result of factors other than gender discrimination and that previously mentioned defenses that Jones was not a teacher and did not meet the qualifications to be a teacher.

News broke Friday that JCPS had reached a $400,000 settlement in another lawsuit, filed about a year ago in Cole County Circuit Court. That suit was filed by Gretchen Guitard — the district's former director of curriculum and staff services — on allegations of discrimination based on retaliation and gender.

A judge had not yet signed off on the April 4 motion to dismiss Guitard's suit with prejudice.

A second suit filed about the same time last year by Tammy Ferry also alleges discrimination based on retaliation and gender.

The News Tribune reached out Friday to Linthacum about Jones' lawsuit. He did not immediately respond, but had provided an earlier response to questions about Guitard's settlement.

"We believe in transparency and respect the judicial process. However, our attorney advises me not to discuss litigation," Linthacum said.