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posted: 9/25/2013 4:36 PM

Settlement close in Geneva school discrimination case

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  • Margaret Pennington

    Margaret Pennington


The Geneva school board Monday approved a proposed settlement with a former principal who accused the district of discrimination.

The details of the settlement were not released. The settlement won't go in to effect until plaintiff Margaret Pennington accepts it, according to school board member Kelly Nowak. She and district spokesman Kelley Munch directed further inquiries to the district's attorney, who could not be reached for comment.

Pennington filed a $1 million suit in 2011.

Federal court documents indicate Pennington offered to settle her suit for $650,000 in July 2012. Substantial agreement was reached on a settlement earlier this year, according to court documents, but was delayed while officials of the Teacher Retirement System weighed in. Pennington has asked that the settlement be paid for through the district's payroll, so it will count toward her TRS pension.

According to her lawsuit, Pennington said she was discriminated against because of her age and gender. She contends that younger men hired as principals at the same time as she was, who had less experience, were paid more. She also said the district denied her health insurance. She was 50 when she was hired as principal of Heartland Elementary School in 2008.

She said she was underpaid given her 27 years of experience and her past work performance, and that she should have at least been paid the same as the other two principals, which a letter from her attorney indicated was $108,321; it is not clear if that included benefits. She was paid $92,500 base salary.

Her suit sought $1.06 million, including a minimum of $311,484 in back pay as of June 2012.

The district maintains that Pennington refused district health insurance because she chose to be insured through her husband's plan. It asked her previous employers, the Illinois Math and Science Academy and Prairie Crossing Charter School, for her personnel files, to bolster their insurance argument and obtain salary information.

The district showed the court a letter from Pennington's lawyer seeking settlement, which said Pennington should have been paid another $120,000 a year given her credentials and experience. She also complained the district didn't follow its own policies for providing her a mentor; that they didn't give timely notice that they weren't going to renew her principal contract; and that when they transferred her from Heartland to a job at district headquarters, she was stuck in a dirty office littered with mousetraps.

Pennington was principal at Heartland for one year. She was then in the administrative job for one year. The district did not renew her contract.

The school district had sued Pennington in 2010, saying she had illegally eavesdropped on her supervisors by surreptitiously recording conversations and meetings without their permission, including times when she had asked to do so and they denied her. A Kane County judge ruled against the district, saying the state's eavesdropping law was unconstitutional.

The federal case has an Oct. 18 court date, but the case could be dismissed before then if Pennington accepts the settlement.

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