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Columbia high school leaders sue district over mistreatment

Columbia high school leaders sue...

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Two Columbia high school assistant principals sued the district and the head of secondary education for alleged mistreatment and retaliation.

Rachel Henderson and Andrew McCarthy, a recently married couple who worked together for several years, filed separate lawsuits against Columbia Public Schools and Dr. Kevin Brown, vice superintendent of secondary schools. The discrimination lawsuits claim Brown punished the two after Henderson complained about Brown's behavior in passing McCarthy up for a promotion and sending him to a different high school.

The lawsuit asks the Boone County court to award damages in favor of the couple. Andy Hirth, the couple's attorney in their cases, said the two want to clear their names.

"There's a real perception that they must have done something wrong," Hirth told ABC 17 News. "They feel like their reputations have been damaged because of this. They feel like there's this cloud hanging over them that they've been accused of something when, in fact, they haven't been accused of anything."

McCarthy was one of Battle High School's first assistant principals when the school opened in 2013. Henderson joined the staff the next school year, also as an assistant principal. Neither one oversaw the other in terms of job responsibilities, Hirth said. The two began dating in 2014 and married in June. The couple had cleared with several administrators that there were no policies against co-workers dating, the lawsuit said.

Brown started as assistant superintendent in June 2016. Since then, the lawsuit claims, Henderson has made three complaints to the district about comments Brown has made at Battle High School about female teachers. According to the lawsuit, Brown "ogled and made approving sounds toward a young female teacher walking down the hall in front of them." In another instance, Brown said "another teacher's butt was too big to be wearing leggings."

The lawsuit also claims Brown told Henderson that white parents shouldn't adopt black children.

"This was particularly offensive to Rachel Henderson, because she has a son who is adopted, who is African-American," Hirth said.

In May, Brown brought up the complaints made against him during a meeting with vice principals, the lawsuit claims, including Henderson. He hinted that he would "come out on top" of those complaints, and said those that filed the complaints would regret doing so.

Hirth told ABC 17 News that McCarthy, in turn, suffered due to his wife's complaints. He applied to be the new principal of Hickman High School in 2017, but was not afforded an interview or even a response indicating that the district was not considering him. McCarthy had more administrative experience at CPS than the other finalists, Hirth said, and even Superintendent Peter Stiepleman apologized to McCarthy for the way the search for a principal was handled.

In June, Brown told McCarthy he was moving him from Battle to Hickman High School in an attempt to split up married couples who were working at the same school. Hirth said, so far, the district has not separated any of the other four married couples who work together.

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