A special education teacher claims Carencro Middle School Principal Spurgeon Banyard sexually harassed her during her time working at the school and denied her leave for medical appointments because she rebuffed his advances.
Special education teacher Sandra Stevens filed suit in state district court Monday against the “state of Louisiana through Lafayette Parish School System, Spurgeon Banyard,” claiming discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on her sex.
School system officials say they investigated a complaint Stevens filed in late January 2014 and found Banyard didn’t violate any School Board policies. In her lawsuit, Stevens claims the school system did not properly investigate the matter and failed to provide Banyard with workplace conduct training.
She is asking for a jury trial and for compensation for attorney fees and damages caused by the “extreme mental anguish and emotional distress” she suffered.
Banyard described Stevens as a disgruntled employee who filed suit because she was unsuccessful in other attempts to discredit him by making allegations to the school system and by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Her complaint and EEOC complaint didn’t go anywhere. Now, she’s trying a civil complaint, which to me is absurd because you have no grounds to stand on,” Banyard said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Banyard said he encountered resistance from some faculty and staff when he first took over what he described as a dysfunctional school with low academic achievement and extreme discipline problems in the 2012-13 school year.
“In two years’ time, we’ve grown from a 53 to 71 (in school performance scores). I’ve removed certain staff members and some staff members have left on their own. Enrollment has increased. We are improving,” Banyard said.
Banyard said his issues with Stevens during the 2013-14 school year were related to what he described as her lackluster job performance as a math teacher of special education students at his school.
“It’s a problem to me for the parish to keep recycling her through the parish rather than removing her for being incompetent,” Banyard said.
In her suit, Stevens claimed Banyard and former superintendent Pat Cooper “were friends, and thus, any allegations of impropriety by Banyard should have been independently investigated.”
Lafayette Parish School System Human Resources Director Bruce Leininger said Stevens’ complaints were investigated, but said he couldn’t provide further information about the personnel matter.
“It was investigated and we couldn’t corroborate behaviors that were claimed to be harassment. There was a thorough investigation. I can’t go into details,” Leininger said.
He said Stevens was transferred in February 2014 from Carencro Middle to Broussard Middle, where she currently works, because “we thought it in her best interest to transfer her.”
The suit makes several claims, including that Banyard told Stevens he wanted her at Carencro Middle because she was attractive, Stevens claims in the lawsuit.
She claims that Banyard told her, “ ‘These boys need something to look at,’ and that he later added, ‘Man, there is something about you that I like.’ ”
Stevens claimed Banyard then told her that he liked the way she smelled.
“Without warning, Banyard grabbed (Stevens’) hand, kissed it, and walking away, declared: ‘I need to stay away from you!’ Shocked by Banyard’s conduct (Stevens) initially could not move. (She) then began to shake and tremble,” the lawsuit recounts.
Stevens claims Banyard repeatedly asked her out for drinks and “ogled and gawked at her” in school hallways and demanded to go to her house to check out the neighborhood because he was home-shopping.
She claims that on or around Jan. 9, 2014, she requested time off for a doctor’s appointment and Banyard denied the request, forcing her to cancel it.
A day later, Banyard sent out a faculty email stating he would deny any leave requests and told Stevens personally that she needed to schedule her appointments around her time off.
Stevens claims she encountered Banyard in a hallway a few days later and he asked again when he could come to her house. When she refused, Banyard threatened her with retaliation from the special education supervisor, the suit says.
The suit also alleges that Banyard approached Stevens from behind as she was making copies in the school’s copy room on Jan. 27, placed his hands on her sides and acted as though he was tickling her. Stevens said she jumped away and Banyard asked to talk to her in his office, where she told him that she no longer wanted to work at the school due to his behavior.
“Banyard declared that (Stevens) was ‘like a spoiled child’ and that she would not get another job in the parish,” Stevens claims in the lawsuit.
That incident happened on the same day Stevens had requested leave for another doctor’s appointment, which Banyard again denied.
Banyard said Wednesday that initially he honored Stevens’ requests for time off until it became a pattern and he began denying her requests because it was impacting students’ learning.
In her lawsuit, Stevens said she reported Banyard’s behavior to then-superintendent Cooper on Jan. 31, 2014. She said she got a letter from Leininger informing her that there was no evidence Banyard was at fault and that Banyard reported she had approached him.
This is the second lawsuit filed against Banyard by one of his former Carencro Middle employees in the past year. In March 2014, former Carencro Middle School assistant principal Ada Thomas accused Banyard of humiliating her in front of teachers, sexual harassment and not reimbursing her for errands she ran for him. Litigation in that matter is still pending.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.