SIOUX CITY -- A former Sioux City elementary school principal who has said she resigned "under duress" has sued the school district, claiming superintendent Paul Gausman and other district administrators forced her out because of her gender and her age.
Dawn Stansbury also accuses the district of breach of contract, saying administrators wrongfully terminated her contract after the date when contracts automatically renew for the following school year, and deprived her of her right to due process by demanding her to take a demotion or resign without notifying her of the reasons.
Formerly the Morningside Elementary School principal, Stansbury alleges that in April 2018, she was given an ultimatum at Gausman's direction to be demoted to a middle school assistant principal position or be fired. She said that Brian Burnight, the district's director of elementary education and her direct supervisor, told her that as long as Gausman was superintendent, she would never receive a promotion, cost of living adjustments or salary increases.
Stansbury declined the position. In August she notified the district in a one-sentence letter that she was resigning under duress, giving no further explanation. She was replaced with a man she said had two years of experience as a principal at a school with declining reading skills scores.
Stansbury is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and benefits and punitive damages. She said in the lawsuit that she has suffered mental anguish, anxiety, fear, depression, disgrace, grief and will suffer loss of wages and earning capacity in the future.
District spokeswoman Mandie Mayo on Monday declined to comment, saying the district does not comment on personnel matters or litigation.
Filed Feb. 22 in Woodbury County District Court, Stansbury's lawsuit names the district, Gausman, Burnight and associate superintendent Kim Buryanek as defendants. Stansbury filed employment discrimination charges with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which issued her an administrative release, or right to sue. That document is not available to the public.
According to the lawsuit, the district hired Stansbury as a teacher in 2001, and she was promoted to elementary school principal in 2005. She ultimately was principal at Washington and Whittier elementary schools in 2014, a year before they consolidated into the new Morningside Elementary School. She was principal of Morningside when it opened in August 2015.
Burnight placed Stansbury on a Plan of Awareness in March 2017 because Morningside's reading scores were not high enough, Stansbury said in the lawsuit, though a male principal at another school that had lower scores was not disciplined. His school was given additional reading instructional assistance and hers was not, despite her requests, the lawsuit said.
Stansbury said that Gausman required her to "cultivate favoritism among the staff" by naming an employee of the month and choose a teacher of the year. Those actions were used by the district, she said, to justify disciplinary action against her. Male principals who did the same were not disciplined, according to the lawsuit.
She was constructively discharged, she said, when she declined the middle school assistant principal position because she had no experience working in a middle school. Stansbury said district administrators never told her why she was being disciplined nor did they give her notice of her right to appeal the administration's decision.