Former Redbank Valley teacher’s lawsuit alleges sexual harassment

NEW BETHLEHEM – A Redbank Valley teacher has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district for alleged sexual harassment and whistleblower retaliation.

Molly Greenawalt of Fisher charges she was subjected to sexually harassing messages and conversations from a school administrator.

She let that slide, she says, but the last straw was when she learned that same thing was allegedly happening to a student teacher from Clarion University.

Greenawalt alleges Redbank Valley administrators punished her when she brought the issue of the student teacher to their attention and to the attention of Clarion University’s education department.

The school district contends no sexual harassment of her or the student teacher took place and Greenawalt was not punished for reporting it.

Court documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania outline what Greenawalt and her attorneys say are violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Greenawalt filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission alleging that sexual harassment and retaliatory actions created a hostile work environment, and the EEOC informed her in September she had the right to sue.

Greenawalt’s attorneys, Steele Schneider of Pittsburgh, filed the complaint in November. Redbank Valley, represented by Knox McLaughlin Gornall and Sennett of Erie filed its answer in December.

Greenawalt told the Clarion News the matter is now waiting on a pretrial conference when dates for further actions such as depositions will be set.

The principal

Greenawalt says from 2011 to 2014, she allegedly received sexually explicit text messages from teacher and later high school principal Jason Kerr inviting her to perform sexual acts with him and send him pictures of herself.

She said she consistently refused these suggestions and reacted negatively, but never filed a complaint at the time.

Greenawalt taught high school English at Redbank and Kerr was her immediate superior. She alleged Kerr sent other messages threatening retaliation if she reported the sexual messages.

She said Kerr also allegedly sent vulgar and sexually explicit messages to other women at the school.

The district says it is unaware if Kerr sent any sexually explicit messages to other female staff and that Kerr allegedly said his exchanges with Greenawalt were mutual.

The student teacher

Greenawalt says she learned Kerr was allegedly sending sexually harassing messages to a student teacher placed at Redbank by Clarion University.

According to Greenawalt’s court filing, the student teacher reported Kerr to the supervisor of Clarion University’s student teacher program.

Clarion University officials reported the alleged sexual harassment to Redbank superintendent Michael Drzewiecki, providing computer images of Kerr’s alleged sexually explicit messages.

The legal filing claims Drzewiecki told university officials he would investigate the matter and could discipline Kerr for his conduct.

But Greenawalt charges that Drzewiecki did not conduct an investigation into the incident and did not discipline Kerr.

Greenawalt was participating in CUP’s student teacher program and in May of 2014 she spoke with the student teaching supervisor about her concerns about the lack of investigation or discipline in the alleged harassment issue.

The supervisor asked Drzewiecki about the matter, the legal filing states, but he refused to respond and demanded the supervisor reveal who told the supervisor about the text messages and the lack of investigation.

“(The supervisor) had no choice but to reveal that Greenawalt had been the source of the information,” Greenawalt’s complaint states.

The district’s response states the student teacher did not describe the messages from Kerr as sexual harassment but as inappropriate.

After meeting with Drzewiecki, CUP officials believed the matter was resolved and that the student teacher said she was not filing a complaint and did not want to pursue the matter further.

The reassignment

Shortly afterward, Kerr told Greenawalt that Drzewiecki had reassigned her and she would be teaching Title I elementary reading rather than high school English for the 2014-15 school year.

Greenawalt said she taught high school for 21 years, 16 of them at Redbank, and she had neither the experience nor the training for teaching elementary grade levels.

The district claims Greenawalt held a reading specialist certification for grades K-12, which would qualify her to teach elementary Title I reading.

Greenawalt said she has the K-12 certification but she did not receive the training needed to conduct specific kinds of tests used in the Title I program.

She believes she was allegedly reassigned as retaliation and that, without experience, she would receive a negative evaluation enabling the school district to eventually fire her.

She said 11 other Redbank Valley teachers had the training and credentials to fill the elementary reading position, and the district reassigned four other teachers to make her reassignment possible.

The district also distributed the high school classes she taught among four other English teachers, increasing their workload.

The district states moving Greenawalt to the elementary school was part of an overall restructuring of staff and that Greenawalt was the only teacher they could move into the elementary position without hiring more staff.

The district stated the four high school English teachers were capable of handling their increased workload.

The legal action

In September 2014, Greenawalt reported Kerr’s alleged harassment to the district through her attorney.

On October 17, 2014, she filed an official complaint with the school district, including allegations of Kerr’s sexual harassment, the district inaction over the student teacher matter and the district’s whistleblower retaliation.

She had already made an initial filling with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), and included images of Kerr’s allegedly sexually explicit messages in that filing and the complaint to the school district.

Greenawalt alleges that on Oct. 27, 2014, Kerr threatened her witnesses and colleagues, saying their personal lives would be “turned upside down” and the school district would examine their personal emails and text messages because of the EEOC filing.

Greenawalt’s legal filing states she never received a report on the district’s investigations of her complaints.

The district says its lawyers sent three letters requesting more information; while Greenawalt answered some of the questions, she did not answer them all.

The district says that when Drzewiecki tried to investigate Greenawalt’s complaint, she refused to meet with him to discuss her allegations.

Greenawalt said she was invited to attend a meeting with attorneys from both said and the school board to “entertain the issues” in the matter.

She told the Clarion News she canceled the meeting when she heard Drzewiecki would attend, saying she did not want to meet to discuss the Kerr matter with Drzewiecki present when she had filed a complaint against Drzewiecki for retaliation.

Leaving Redbank

Greenawalt says Kerr’s alleged harassment and the district’s alleged retaliation through the reassignment exacerbated her chronic migraines, leaving her unable to teach.

At the recommendation of her doctor, she requested and was granted a medical sabbatical for the 2014-15 school year. Drzewiecki told her she would have to return to the elementary reading position afterwards.

She later requested an extension of the medical sabbatical for the 2015-16 school year.

The school board denied that request, but approved a request for unpaid leave.

Greenawalt is a longtime member of the Clarion-Limestone school board.

According to Redbank Valley School Board minutes, Kerr requested a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act and it was granted Nov. 3, 2014.

On Nov. 4, 2014, according to the district’s response filing, Drzewiecki placed Kerr on administrative leave.

At a special meeting Feb. 10, 2015, the school board accepted Kerr’s resignation as principal and girls’ basketball coach, according to a report by the New Bethlehem Leader Vindicator. Board members told the public at the meeting Kerr resigned for health reasons.

According to the Valley News Dispatch, Kerr was hired in the fall of 2015 to coach girls’ basketball at Valley High School in New Kensington; the newspaper reported Kerr teaches social studies for the Agora Cyber School.