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Female Gary principal loses sex discrimination appeal

December 17, 2018

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment to northern Indiana school corporation when it found a female principal was not discriminated against based on her sex when a male candidate got the job she applied for.

After serving as a teacher and administrator with the Gary Community School Corporation for 35 years, Gloria Terry’s position as principal of Brunswick Elementary School ended when the school closed in 2014. Despite interviewing and ranking highest by the interview committee for an open principal position at another elementary school in the district, the position was ultimately offered to the school’s interim-principal Sheldon Cain, who had neither applied nor interviewed for the position. Terry was instead placed as an assistant principal at a separate school.

In October 2014, Terry filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating that she faced employment discrimination on the basis of her sex because she was demoted, passed over for a promotion and paid less in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.

A district court granted Terry’s motion for partial summary on her Indiana state-law claim, but granted summary judgment in favor of the district on Terry’s remaining federal claims in Gloria Terry v. Gary Community School Corporation, 18-1270.

Among other things, Terry appealed that the district engaged in sex discrimination when it “demoted” her from principal to assistant principal and by promoting a male candidate for the position instead of her. Specifically, she alleged the demotion resulted in a lesser title, diminished job responsibilities and less prestige and that Cain could not have been a candidate because he did not apply for the position.

The 7th Circuit Court denied her claims, finding that she provided no evidence showing the district had a pretextual, discriminatory purpose for its actions in giving the principal position to a male candidate instead of her. It agreed with the district court that the decision was not sex-based and that it chose him for the role due to his previous employment and experience at the school.

Terry also argued that her position as principal of Brunswick Elementary was equivalent to Cain’s position as interim principal of Marquette Elementary and that her salary could have been increased, but the district elected not to increase it. But the 7th Circuit Court disagreed.

“The record makes clear that when the salary freeze went into effect, the Principal of Brunswick Elementary earned $84,308 and the Principal of Marquette Elementary earned $85,986. Those salaries remained frozen throughout the 2013-2014 school year,” Judge Joel M. Flaum wrote for the court. 

“And the record supports the inference that the differences in pay between the two positions was historical (dating back to the start of the salary freeze) rather than the product of the District’s decision to award one employee more than the other — much less a product of the District’s decision to award a male employee more than a female employee. Consequently, the District carried its burden of proving that a factor other than sex is the reason for the difference in pay.”

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