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Federal agency dismisses Cannelton teachers’ cases

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EEOC finds no support for age- , sex-discrimination claims

By KEVIN KOELLING
Managing Editor

CANNELTON – Discrimination complaints filed by two teachers fired from Cannelton City Schools were dismissed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the school system’s superintendent announced at a school-board meeting Aug. 15.

As the News reported July 23, 2012, Donna Bryan was fired for reasons that changed between May and July of that year. She was first accused of producing a petition for students who wanted to support Mike Stenftenagel, the other fired teacher, and other related actions Superintendent Alva Sibbitt said were inappropriate during the school day and with school resources.

He said during this month’s school-board meeting Bryan filed a complaint alleging age and sex discrimination and Stenftenagel filed one claiming age discrimination. The federal commission was unable to conclude that available information supported either teacher’s claims, according to letters from Thomas J. Belcher of the Kelley, Belcher and Brown law firm in Bloomington.

“They did not find evidence that the school corporation … discriminated against them,” Sibbitt explained. “There was not adequate evidence to show that their claims of discrimination were valid.”

Both claims were “closed,” he continued, but the teachers have 90 days from the dates of the letters, July 24 and 26 for Bryan and Stenftenagel, respectively, to file lawsuits.

As the News reported Jan. 31, they filed a joint civil lawsuit seeking a jury trial and asking that the corporation pay damages for lost wages and benefits and that they be reinstated to their teaching positions.

The federal agency refused to provide information about the discrimination claims.

“We’re strictly forbidden by federal law from furnishing or discussing such information,” commission spokesman James Ryan told the News last week. Information can be provided “only if we end up filing suit, which is usually a last resort,” he added, explaining Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which established the agency, prohibits the release of information.

“The commission shall endeavor to eliminate any such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion,” it reads.

“Nothing said or done during and as a part of such informal endeavors may be made public by the commission, its officers or employees, or used as evidence in a subsequent proceeding without the written consent of the persons concerned. Any person who makes public information in violation of this subsection shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year or both.”

Neither of the teachers nor the lawyer representing them in the civil lawsuit responded to voice-mail messages seeking information about the discrimination claims.