The principal of an Illinois high school recently settled a lawsuit against the district alleging sex discrimination. Karen Gauen, who will retire after this school year ends, sued the school district, claiming that she was paid less money than her male predecessor. The $200,000 settlement was unanimously approved by the school board.
Gauen, who expressed regret over suing the school district, had originally sought $1.5 million in damages. The district, however, refused to admit wrongdoing. The district attempted to have the case dismissed by the courts, but that motion was denied. The board continues to vigorously deny any wrongdoing with regard to the salary of Ms. Gauen.
Gauen, however, claimed that the board hired less-qualified male principals for larger salaries than the one she was getting. Gauen noted that the board paid her predecessor $25,000 more per year than she was getting, despite being the more qualified of the two candidates. Not only did he lack Gauen’s qualifications, but he had 17 years less experience as an educator. Gauen’s litany of degrees includes a doctorate in educational administration.
The suit further claimed that Gauen was being paid less money than the assistant principal.
The district responded by claiming that Gauen’s salary had nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with her experience as an administrator. Gauen had only held the position of assistant principal for one year before being promoted. The district claimed that the former principal had eight years of administrative experience.
Gauen also noted that several female employees saw wage increases after she filed suit. The district responded by saying that several male administrators also saw wage increases during that period.
They Said, She Said
In sex discrimination lawsuits, an employee alleges that the reason that she is being paid less than male employees is due to gender-based discrimination. In response, the defendant claims that the real reason the plaintiff was paid less is that of any other reason.
The job of the plaintiff then becomes to assert that the defendant’s reasoning is only a pretense. With the settlement, it is hard to say how a case like this would have played out in court. That the board chose to settle is not necessarily an indicator that they believed they were in the wrong. Litigation is costly, and trying the case in court may have cost the district more money than the settlement. To top it off, there is still the risk of losing the verdict.
For the plaintiff, the settlement is bittersweet. She did not get the apology or the admission of wrongdoing that she had hoped for, but her salary was adjusted to reflect her credentials and that will be included in her pension. Gauen is glad the affair is over.
Do You Feel that You are Being Unfairly Paid?
If you believe you are experiencing discrimination at work, HKM Employment Law of Kansas City can help. We have managed several cases just like yours, securing excellent settlements and litigating when the need arises.