September 2, 2014

Elyria
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Lake Ridge Academy sued over firing

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Lake Ridge Academy has been sued twice this week in federal court, and both lawsuits accuse the elite private school of firing its former elementary principal because he raised concerns about possible pay disparities between male and female teachers.

James C. Whiteman, who was told in January 2006 that his contract would not be renewed at the end of the school year, was let go before his contract expired and was told not to return to the school, according to a lawsuit he filed Tuesday.

In the second suit filed Wednesday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the commission contends the school fired Whiteman because he raised concerns about the pay gap in late 2005.

“We believe that James Whiteman was retaliated against as a result of bringing forward gender pay concerns,” said EEOC attorney Lawrence Mays.

Whiteman’s attorney, Gregory Gordillo, said his client was punished for doing the right thing.

“He raised very specific concerns, and he raised them because other people were afraid to raise them, and he was penalized for it,” Gordillo said.

Mays said Whiteman raised his concerns in 2005 while serving on the school’s accreditation committee. It wasn’t the first time he’d questioned the possibility of teachers being paid unequally — he’d mentioned it as a potential problem as far back as 2003, Mays said.

After returning from the Christmas break in January, Whiteman was told his position was being consolidated with the head of the academy’s middle school as a part of a restructuring to address financial problems the academy was having.

In a joint statement, Lee Howley, chairman of the academy’s board of directors, and Carol Klimas, the school’s president, denied any wrongdoing on the school’s part and said the school followed the law.

“The only background we feel we can provide is that the lawsuit stems from a reduction in force of school employees in January 2006,” they said. “This workforce reduction resulted in EEOC inquiries. We take these accusations very seriously and have cooperated with the EEOC in all matters.”

Mays said that Whiteman, who spent 12 years at the academy, was far more qualified for the newly created position of assistant head of schools than the man who ultimately was given the job, Stanley Way.

In an e-mail Way sent his boss addressing Whiteman’s concerns in 2005, Way wrote: “there is no indication of inequity of compensation based on gender,” according to court filings.

Mays would not say whether the EEOC was investigating Whiteman’s concerns about a discrepancy in teachers’ pay, but he did say the agency wants to work with the school to resolve the issue of possible retaliation against Whiteman.

In his lawsuit, Whiteman asks for unspecified damages and costs associated with his legal fight.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.