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Former McLean County Unit 5 employee sues school district for retaliation, harassment

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PEORIA — A former employee is suing McLean County Unit 5 in federal court for job discrimination, accusing the district of forcing her out after she reported sexual harassment.

The lawsuit was filed this week by a former district employee who says she was a victim of sexual harassment during her time at the Normal-based district. The suit says district leadership forced her to resign and failed her after the former director of human resources and student services, James Harden, harassed her.

District officials said Wednesday they had not yet received the complaint. The Pantagraph will not identify the plaintiff named in this case.

In the lawsuit, the former employee alleges she was exposed to repeated derogatory and sexually suggestive and explicit comments and gestures from Harden.

In March 2019, the Unit 5 school board approved a resignation resolution for Harden.

The suit says she faced harassment and retaliation from then-Superintendent Mark Daniel and members of the board after she reported him.

She alleges after reporting his behavior, the superintendent imposed different workplace rules on her than were imposed on other Unit 5 employees who had not made complaints.

According to the lawsuit, she was forced to resign because of the work environment; the retaliation that resulted from her opposition to “the unlawful conduct of senior management employees” and reporting of Harden; and the district’s failure “to take action to stop the discriminatory actions in the workplace.”

The suit claims Unit 5 violated the plaintiff’s civil rights by allowing Harden and other supervisory personnel to remain in the workplace; allowing Harden, Daniel and other supervisory personnel including board members to intimidate and create work environment issues; failing to provide a work environment free of sexual harassment; causing the plaintiff to leave her position; and other alleged violations.

She also said in the lawsuit Unit 5 discriminated against her based on sex, claiming male colleagues “were treated more favorably.”

As part of the suit, the plaintiff asks that she be reinstated to her position at Unit 5 with back-pay and benefits or awarded “front-pay and all prospective lost benefits” if no comparable positions are available, plus damages.

According to online court records, the plaintiff is demanding $50,000,000, however, documents filed in this case indicate the demand is $50,000.

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Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.


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