INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – Two Independence School District elementary school teachers are suing the district, alleging discrimination, harassment and more from an administrator and the district.

Sierra Dinges filed the suit on May 11, along with Breanne Jeffries, who filed a separate but related lawsuit in federal court on May 16, claiming gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation by administrator Richard Neal Johnson.

According to Dinges’ lawsuit, multiple female employees brought allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against Johnson between 2020 and 2021 who was then-Cassell Park Elementary School principal.

In response to their allegations, the lawsuit says each employee received a letter from Greg Gilliam, the then-Title IX compliance officer, saying all the allegations were found to be “unsubstantiated.”

During this time, both women filed complaints against their administrator with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MHRA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the matter was not resolved, according to the lawsuits.

Megan Murphy, director of public relations at the Independence School District, said the district intends to “vigorously defend against the allegations.”

“The Independence School District feels this lawsuit has no merit,” she said in an email.

Lauren Sierra Kruskall, an attorney with Jungle Law representing Dinges, said there is still time for the district to remedy the matter.

“Even though something has made it all the way to court, there’s still time to make changes from the administrative level, to listen, and to reach out and say, ‘These types of comments and these types of comments you’re referencing are not appropriate for the workplace,’” Kruskall said. “We have to have more empathy for our employees.”

According to Dinges’ lawsuit, Johnson is accused of saying to female staff members that “women are often ducks… quacking and pooping,” but that he wanted women to be “eagles and soar above the ducks and not gossip.”

The lawsuit claims Johnson called Dinges his “special friend,” asking her not to tell anyone else because he didn’t want anyone to know that she was his favorite, while winking. The suit also claims he called her his “baby girl,” on numerous occasions, and commented on how a dress framed her body well, stating, “You better hang on to it because it looks so good on you.”

In the lawsuit, Dinges says Johnson invited her to his house to drink wine and watch “Stranger Things” on Netflix, emphasizing that his wife would be out of town.

According to Jeffries’ lawsuit, Johnson commented that women in the office were having a “hen fight.” She alleges in her case that Johson discussed former president Bill Clinton interviewing interns, when he stated, “he throws a pen on the floor and tells them to pick it up.”

Dinges’ suit also alleges Johnson retaliated against the teachers who brought negative allegations against him by withholding assistance to teachers who had an issue with a student. In another instance, the suit alleges Johnson and the district retaliated against Dinges by demoting her to a lower position in March 2021 and she took a pay cut.

In April 2021, Johnson was promoted to assistant principal at Truman High School in Independence, the lawsuit states.

The first court proceeding for Dinges’ case is scheduled for Sept. 9. The first proceeding for Jeffries’ case is scheduled for Aug. 15.

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