Parties agree to mediation in suit against Franklin School District

The parties in a lawsuit filed by a former Franklin High School teacher against the Franklin Area School District have agreed upon mediation as an alternative resolution to a jury trial.

A case management order had said that Marcy Brown and the school district agreed to refer the case to mediation, which was initially scheduled to be completed before Jan. 22, 2024.

But a joint motion filed late last month by Brown and the defendants has requested that the timeline be extended until May.

Brown filed her suit against the school district, superintendent Eugene Thomas and high school co-principals Tom Holoman and Kris Miller in August.

The suit alleges that Brown was subjected to age discrimination, a hostile work environment, unlawful termination, constructive discharge and retaliation.

In October, the district, Thomas, Holoman and Miller filed a response through the school district’s legal counsel, Robert Zaruta of the Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett firm in Erie.

The response denies several claims that the district permitted and created a hostile work environment because of Brown’s age, that the district retaliated against Brown, or that the district effectively terminated Brown’s employment.

Brown’s suit alleged that the district’s stating it would post the charges against her on its website, before a special school board meeting held to approve the charges, left her “no viable alternative” than to tender her resignation to avoid what she felt would be further damage to her reputation, and her resignation was thus “effectively a termination.”

The response states that the district’s legal counsel held the position that the school code and Sunshine Act “required the posting of the statement of charges prior to the board voting on the same,” as a part of the board agenda that must be posted at least 24 hours prior to a meeting.

Further, the response notes that Zaruta told Brown’s legal counsel, Neal Sanders of the Neal A. Sanders firm in Kittanning, that the “only way to avoid the legal requirement” would be for Brown to resign prior to the 24-hour deadline.

In addition, while Brown’s suit claimed three Title IX complaints against her were determined by Children and Youth Services to be “unfounded,” the response states that while the Title IX investigation did not conclude that Brown had engaged in child abuse, the investigation did conclude she had “engaged in Title IX sexual harassment and other policy violations.”

The response concludes with a request that the complaint be dismissed, backed by nine affirmative defenses, including claims that Brown “cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, or constructive discharge under any of the statues identified in the Complaint.”

Brown, whose last name was Lusher at the time, had filed two other suits against the district in 2012 and 2014 claiming she had experienced gender discrimination and a hostile work environment and had suffered retaliation for her complaints.

Those suits were settled with the district’s agreement to pay Brown $25,000 and $30,000, respectively, but the agreement documents noted that the settlements weren’t to be construed as acknowledgement of fault by the district.