Three former Gardner-Edgerton school administrators discuss abrupt firings after settling lawsuit

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GARDNER, Kan. -- Three administrators abruptly fired from the Gardner-Edgerton School District have been waiting for two-and-a-half years to tell their stories and clear their names.

The school board recently agreed to pay $1.8 million dollars in a wrongful termination lawsuit, which allows the defendants to talk about their experience.

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Kansas is against the school district and four school board members. Board President Rob Shippy, Brad Chandler, Tresa Boden and Mary Nelson were named in the suit.

The three administrators fired, Superintendent Dr. Bill Gilhaus, Dr. Christy Ziegler and Lana Gerber, were terminated in the middle of the school year in 2014 with no reason given for the terminations, prompting rumors and speculation that they say harmed their careers.

“I want to clear my name and have the opportunity to get back into education and do what I love to do," said Dr. Gilhaus about his reason for telling FOX 4 news his story.

During his time as superintendent, Dr. Gilhaus says the district received 32 governor's achievement awards and student proficiency in reading and math increased from 65 percent to 98 percent. After a stellar 10 years as superintendent with excellent reviews every year, Dr. Gilhaus was fired in February of 2014 for what Shippy said at the time was just cause.

In 2014, Shippy told FOX 4 that is was a personnel issue and refused to talk about the reasons for the terminations, which a judge says violated the administrators' contracts.

"I believe people should be treated fairly and if I had done something in which I am lacking in performing my duties, I would like to be made aware of that, but that is not the case," said Gilhaus, who says he has never been told why he was fired and did not receive due process.

Executive directors Dr. Ziegler and Gerber, who also had exemplary employment histories with the district, were also abruptly fired in 2014.

The school board has never said why it fired three top administrators, but a complaint filed by the former school leaders in court outlines what they say happened before being dismissed.

On February 10, Dr. Ziegler and Gerber made Dr. Gilhaus aware of sexually harassing and threatening behavior by board members Shippy and Chandler.

When asked exactly what kind of harassment, Gerber broke down in tears saying, "Even though it is written in the petition, as a female in our positions, it is really hard to bring them up and I would rather not talk about those specifically, but they were just sexual in nature.”

In the complaint, Gerber recounts leering stares and comments about her appearance that were chauvinistic and bullying.

Dr. Ziegler stated that during a meeting with Shippy, he addressed the women in a condescending manner saying, “Sweetie, I have been in this district long before you, and I will be here long after you are gone.”

"I had never had anyone speak to me like that before. I felt like threatening, what did he mean? He is clearly still there and we are both gone," said Dr. Ziegler of what she says was hostile treatment.

On February 26, the women delivered formal complaints about Shippy and Chandler to Dr. Gilhaus.

The morning of February 27, Dr. Gilhaus gave those complaints to the school board’s attorney and that night, during a closed-door session of an emergency school board meeting, the three were fired.

"In the information that we have received to date, that's the only thing that I can imagine that would have caused me to be terminated that day," said Gerber.

The abrupt firings have followed the three educators, and they say damaged their careers.

“I now have a digital tattoo that is associated with my good name for absolutely no good cause,” said Dr. Ziegler.

A lawyer for the three defendants says the termination effectively ended any investigation into the women's complaints of harassment.

Shippy, Boden and Nelson did not return FOX 4’s calls for comment. We caught up with Chandler at his home and he declined to comment on camera.

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