Education

Lawsuit says principal sexually harassed teacher, then retaliated when she rejected him

The history of sexual harassment in America: five things to know

Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right
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Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right

A teacher has filed a federal lawsuit against the Knox County Schools district alleging that a principal repeatedly sexually harassed her and retaliated against her when she rejected his advances.

Melinda Abner of Laurel County said in a lawsuit filed December 3 in U.S. District Court that she had worked for the school district since about 2005 and moved into a new position as a special education teacher at Lynn Camp High School in about 2013 with principal Anthony Pennington as her direct supervisor.

Beginning in or around 2014, the lawsuit said, “Pennington engaged in repeated sexual harassment of Abner, including ... inappropriate sexual remarks and requests, placing his hands on Abner’s body, pulling Abner onto his lap, and pushing his erect penis against her.”

Abner alleged that when she repeatedly rejected his advances, Pennington threatened her job, monitored her actions, assigned her difficult and a disproportionate amount of work and refused to provide reasonable accommodations for her disabilities.

The lawsuit said she suffers from fibromyalgia, migraines, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome, and that those conditions meet the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Knox County Schools district spokesman Frank Shelton said in a statement Friday that, “at this time we are unable to provide comment on the matter as it involves a current employee.”

Abner alleged in the lawsuit that Pennington watched her movements on the school’s video monitoring system and questioned her about times she left a classroom or went to the restroom when she was sick. The lawsuit said non-disabled and male teachers are not subject to the same scrutiny.

The lawsuit alleged Pennington, “criticized and embarrassed her” in front of other educators. The harassment and retaliatory actions continued until September 2018, according to the lawsuit.

Abner said after she returned from a sick leave in August of this year, she was relocated and demoted from her classroom in the high school to a classroom at an elementary school that she had to share with two teachers.

She asked in the lawsuit to be returned to her former position, salary and seniority level and for an unspecified amount of compensatory damages.

Abner’s attorney, Charles D. Matlock of Louisville, declined to comment.

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