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Lawsuit against Lee’s Summit School District claims superintendent didn’t promote woman because of race

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- A lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Lee's Summit School District accuses the superintendent and district of unethical behavior.

The executive director of technology for the school district, Dr. Amy Gates, filed the lawsuit.

Dr. Amy Gates

According to the lawsuit, Gates was on the panel interviewing three women for an open position within the school district. She claims the superintendent, Dr. Dennis Carpenter, violated several school policies during the hiring process.

The lawsuit contends there were three women applying for executive director of public relations – two were white, the third was black. Dr. Dennis Carpenter argued against hiring the black woman, based solely upon her race, the lawsuit said.

"The Establishment is not ready for the two faces of this district to be African American,” the lawsuit quoted Carpenter saying.

According to legal documents, Gates said Carpenter went on to say, “I will not hire a black person in this position. People are waiting for me to make that mistake. Can you imagine me walking into a BRT (business roundtable) meeting with a black female as the second face of the district?”

Gates filed a claim of discrimination against Carpenter, and that sparked an investigation by the school board.

The district hired an outside agency, which concluded that while Carpenter's statements did violate the spirit of Lee's Summit School District's anti-discrimination policy, but it did not violate the policy AC.

Gates then asked for all papers relating to this investigation. She claimed the district sent her just two documents eight days after filing the Sunshine request.

Lee's Summit School District's superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter.

By law, such requests should get a response within three days. Attorneys didn't get any answers for more than a week, and they said they didn't get a lot of what they asked for. The lawsuit alleges, "the defendant is relying on a broad interpretation of an exclusion to open records to withhold documents."

Gates is now demanding access to all documents related to this discrimination investigation.

The lawsuit also alleges that one of the three candidates was a school board member, which is a violation of district policy.

The school board is in the process of negotiating a contract extension with Carpenter – but the teacher’s union has publicly stated they are against keeping Carpenter in the district.

The suit also points out not only was a school board member allowed to apply, that person is still on the board and "continues to vote on processes including the extension of Dr. Carpenter's employment."

Many parents are frustrated with the district.

"I just think from a transparency standpoint and from communications standpoint, we're not hitting that mark yet," John Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit parent, columnist and small business owner who first tried to raise the alarm bells about what was happening months ago.

"What this district has done has decided to do is put the privacy of applicants ahead of the fact they were actually elected school board members. I don`t understand on what universe that's acceptable," he said.

Now, the district's entangled in what could be a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

"My gosh, we could've fixed all of this, and this is a real teachable moment for our kids. This is what we need to tell people. We take these allegations seriously," Beaudoin said.

FOX4's Matt Stewart reached out to the school district about this lawsuit, and they issued the following response:

“The Lee’s Summit School District acknowledges receipt of a lawsuit brought upon the District in regards to a Sunshine Law request. As such, we will be defending the lawsuit in court, not in the media at this time.”

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