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Guidance counselor sues Fayette schools, alleges discrimination

A Fayette County Public Schools guidance counselor has filed a lawsuit alleging she was denied an opportunity for promotion because of her gender.

The complaint was filed in Fayette Circuit Court by Jill L. Cowan, who works at Jessie Clark Middle School.

Cowan's suit claims that Jessie Clark Principal Lisa Goodin refused to interview her for a new associate principal position in 2007 because Cowan is a woman.

Fayette Public Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the district has turned the suit over to its attorneys for review.

"We fully intend to contest these unfounded allegations in court," Deffendall said. "There have also been some discussions about the possibilities of a countersuit."

According to Cowan's complaint, she called Goodin in early July 2007, asking to be included among individuals being interviewed for associate principal. The suit says, however, that Goodin denied the request. Goodin allegedly told Cowan that she intended to hire a man and advised that she was interviewing men only.

The job ultimately went to a male, the suit says.

Cowan contends she was denied the interview because of her gender, in violation of state law. She also says that when she complained to Michael Ernst, the district's middle school manager, he did nothing.

The suit says Cowan contacted the school district's civil rights compliance officer on April 11, 2008, only to be suspended from her job the same day.

The complaint says Cowan was the target of "purposeful, intentional, negligent and reckless misconduct and retaliation" by various school officials, who intended to "harm and disparage her in her personal and professional life."

According to Cowan's version of events, the suspension was based on claims that she had returned to school late after a meeting and had been "unprofessional" in a phone conversation with Goodin. The suit says, however, that Fayette Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman later concluded that Cowan had not committed any acts warranting a reprimand.

Nevertheless, Cowan claims in the suit that Goodin continued to treat her in an "unlawful and disrespectful manner" and that officials continued a "pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory treatment" against her. She alleges that this included "defamatory statements" suggesting that she was unfit to perform her duties.

Cowan said she subsequently was not rehired as assistant girls' track coach at Jessie Clark — a post she'd held for five years — and was removed from a paid position as an extended school tutor.

She is seeking unspecified damages and a trial by jury. Defendants are Silberman, Goodin, Ernst and the Fayette Board of Education. Silberman, Goodin and Ernst are being sued individually and in their official capacities.