Dr. Amy Gates, executive director for technology for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, recently filed a lawsuit against her employer alleging that the school district violated Missouri’s open records law, also known as the Sunshine Law on January 30, 2019.
The lawsuit states that the district did not provide Gates, the plaintiff, with documents she requested related to a report of discrimination during the hiring process of a district public relations executive director.
According to the lawsuit, during the deliberation process, Dr. Dennis Carpenter, LSR-7 addressed the interview team. He told the members of the team he opposed the hiring of Applicant # 1, an African American female because of her race. The lawsuit states that he said, “The Establishment is not ready for the two faces of this district to be African American.” According to the lawsuit, The Establishment is Dr. Carpenter’s euphemism for the District’s Business Roundtable group.”
The lawsuit states that on February 12, 2018, Dr. Gates made a report of discrimination as required by district policy. The complaint focused on Dr. Carpenter’s statements and his refusal to consider Applicant #1 due to her race.
On March 15, 2018, Dr. Gates was informed that her complaint was being handled as a grievance pursuant to District Policy. She was also informed that an outside investigator would be hired to investigate it. Furthermore, she was told the investigation was for the purpose of determining whether there was a violation of Policy AC. Dr. Gates was not told that the purpose of the investigation was to prepare for the defense of any lawsuit or claim that may be asserted against the Lee’s Summit School District.
After this announcement and have having made a prior complaint verbally, Dr. Gates provided a formal written notice of her grievance under Policy AC.
The lawsuit states that the school district or its agents hired Ann Malloy or Encompass Resolution to conduct the investigation. Malloy investigated members of the interview team as well as Dr. Amy Gates. The school district presented the results of that investigation to Dr. Gates on or about April 26, 2018. According to the lawsuit, the investigation concluded that although Dr. Carpenter did make comments related to the race of an applicant, he did not violate the District’s Policy AC.
On January 8, 2019, through Counsel, Dr. Gates made an open records request that included all contracts or documents between Ann Molloy or Encompass Resolution and the district, all e-mails and text messages between any district employees and Ann Molloy or Encompass Resolution, all payments made to Ann Molloy or Encompass Resolution and all team response surveys or grievances filed against Dr. Carpenter.
The district did not produce any contract related to Ann Molloy or Encompass Resolution. According to the lawsuit, the district failed to produce any contract, invoice, billing statement or any other documentation reflecting payment to Encompass or to Ann Molloy for any investigation into Dr. Gates’ allegations of race discrimination.
Count 1 of the lawsuit is violation of Missouri Revised Statutes: RSMo 610, the Sunshine Act. According to the lawsuit, the district failed to respond to Dr. Gates’ open records request within the three-day period required by state statute and by not providing her with any and all contracts with and payments to Ann Molloy or Encompass Resolution as related to the previously mentioned investigation.
Count 2 of the lawsuit ask for a declaratory judgement by the court. In her open records request, Dr. Gates had requested Team Lee’s Summit survey results related to complaints made by teachers regarding Superintendent Dennis Carpenter. Though the district does not deny these results, it claims they are “individually identifiable personnel records” and not subject to public records requests. The Plaintiff asks the Court for a declaratory judgement that details the scope of “individually identifiable personnel records” exception to the Sunshine Act.
Lee’s Summit Tribune staff contacted Kelly Wachel, LSR-7 executive director of public relations, for comment. She said, “The Lee’s Summit School District acknowledges receipt of a lawsuit brought upon the District in regards to a Sunshine Law request. As such, we will be defending the lawsuit in court, not in the media at this time. As you know, the District is committed to student success and we will be celebrating our Annual Performance Report today, as our students and staff have much to be proud of in our academic achievements.”