Top Peoria Unified administrator files gender discrimination complaint

By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

A top administrator at Peoria Unified School District filed a discrimination complaint alleging she was denied equal opportunity for an executive position, according to a public records request by Peoria Today.

Administrator for K-12 Academic Services Alison Bridgewater, who has been with the district for 30 years, alleges she was not granted the opportunity to apply for the executive director of secondary education position.

A district investigation found no gender discrimination or violation of district policy, but Ms. Bridgewater is appealing the decision and requested outside counsel to further investigate her complaint.

The PUSD Governing Board recently approved attorney Don Peters to investigate the case, who will provide his investigation results to the board.

Ms. Bridgewater stated she was told by K-12 Administrator Steve Savoy in April she would not be granted the opportunity to apply for the position and he gave no rationale other than his “mind was made up,” according to the complaint.

Consequently, she did not apply for the position.

At the time, Mr. Savoy was transferring into his new position as chief instructional officer. The executive director of secondary education reports to the chief instructional officer. The district has six employees who hold executive director positions — four females and two males. The average salary for males is $96,393 and the average for females is $98,667.

In her complaint filed with the district, June 15, Ms. Bridgewater stated the reason she decided to take action: In May she, Mr. Savoy and others conducted elementary school principal interviews, and during a meeting to decide hirings she said Mr. Savoy stated he had concerns with “three gals running a school.”

Others corroborated this statement, according to public records.

At that moment, she stated in the complaint, remaining silent was not an option, “The concern is not just for me, but for those other candidates that deserve equal opportunity and fair treatment,” according to the complaint.

In a letter sent to Ms. Bridgewater in August, Superintendent Darwin Stiffler stated Mr. Savoy’s statement was inappropriate.

“The statement does not reflect the district’s commitment to nondiscrimination on the basis of gender, and the statement has been addressed with Mr. Savoy,” Superintendent Stiffler said. “The district, however, has taken gender equity and gender distribution into account when determining the placement of qualified administrators at sites within the district.”

Chief Personnel Officer Carter Davidson conducted an investigation finding the district did not violate policy, citing Mr. Savoy denied that he prohibited Ms. Bridgewater from applying for the position.

Mr. Davidson said he was present for Mr. Savoy’s statement about women running a school and stated, “I do not believe his comment was made with negative intent, as he followed by sharing that the former superintendent often preferred to have teams that consisted of both male and female administrators.”

In an email to Governing Board President Beverly Pingerelli, Ms. Bridgewater stated HR failed to adhere to timelines, and she received three emailed responses from Mr. Davidson that were unsatisfactory, did not address her concerns and did not correlate to the district’s commitment to nondiscirimation on the basis of gender.

“I gave Dr. Davidson other colleagues (who) could corroborate what I brought forth, but that was never detailed in any written response from HR,” Ms. Bridgewater stated.

In the email, she also stated Mr. Davidson said “he did not believe Mr. Savoy’s comments was made with negative intent. I told him that it was not about intent, but rather the impact of such a statement. Dr. Davidson had not heard of impact vs. intent … and it became clear to me that he was not capable of handling the nature of my complaint.”

During a meeting with Ms. Bridgewater, Superintendent Stiffler said he agreed the responses from HR were not appropriate and apologized for the length of time the investigation had taken. In a letter to her in August, Superintendent Stiffler substantiated the investigation’s conclusion that the district did not violate its discrimination policy.

But she said there are still unresolved issues that are unanswered.

“This entire process is not representative of the district I have served for so many years … I truly hope that changes will be made in order to ensure that we are a district that values equity and access. In order for us to attract, recruit and retain employees, this has to take place,” she stated in the email.

Peoria Today requested interviews from the parties involved through district spokeswoman Danielle Airey. She conveyed the request, and said all felt that making comments would compromise the investigation.

“The district is hopeful that the investigation will conclude in a timely manner,” she said.

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