COLUMBIA - Two high school vice principals at Columbia Public Schools are suing the district and the assistant superintendent, claiming discrimination and retaliation.
Rachel Henderson and Andrew McCarthy worked together at Battle High School, started dating in 2014 and got married in June. Their attorney, Andy Hirth, said problems started when Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Kevin Brown was hired in 2016.
The couple filed separate lawsuits against the district and Brown for discrimination and retaliation, claiming Brown punished them for filing grievances against him.
Henderson claims Brown made offensive comments about "developmentally disabled students" and against female teachers' bodies, clothing and appearance.
"He would make comments at meetings about the attractiveness of different women, all of which she found highly inappropriate," Hirth said.
Henderson also claims Brown said he didn't think white families should adopt African-American children.
"Rachel took offense at this in particular because she has an adopted child who is African-American," Hirth said.
Henderson claims to have made various complaints about Brown's behavior to human resources, but nothing ever happened.
In spring 2017, McCarthy applied for a principal position that was open at Hickman High School. Hirth said Brown chose three candidates to interview for the position and McCarthy was not one of them, although McCarthy had "more experience in high school administration than any of the other candidates." Hirth said McCarthy also has a higher degree of education than two of the three candidates.
"Even sort of more surprising was, they didn't even respond to his application," Hirth said.
The couple claims McCarthy was not given a chance at the position because of Henderson's complaints.
In May, Brown told McCarthy he was being moved to Hickman as an assistant principal solely because he and Henderson were about to be married and the district didn't want married administrators working in the same school. Hirth said they know this is not a district policy and Brown has admitted to that. Hirth also said there are at least four other married couples working at Columbia Public Schools that have not been separated.
Henderson and McCarthy went to human resources when they first began dating and were told their relationship was not a problem because neither person oversees the other's duties.
"In fact, the man that was chosen to become the principal at Hickman, that Dr. Brown chose, after he became principal hired his own wife as a guidance counselor. So, there's clearly no policy about this," Hirth said.
Shortly after, Brown said in a meeting with all the district assistant principals that people have filed grievances against him. Hirth said in the meeting Brown said he was going to "come out on top" and that those who complained against him were going to regret it.
The couple both filed additional grievances against Brown after the meeting.
Hirth said the couple filed the lawsuits primarily in an attempt to clear their names and reputations.
"People keep assuming they did something wrong. It doesn't make sense to have moved Andrew. Every one knows he wasn't interviewed, and then he gets moved to a different school," Hirth said. "And the assumption that everyone has is that they must have done something inappropriate."
KOMU 8 News contacted Columbia Public Schools, but Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark said in an email the district cannot comment on the issue.
"In accordance with state law, the school district cannot comment on personnel matters. Additionally, the district cannot comment on on-going or pending litigation."