MASON CITY | The former human resources director at Mason City Schools is suing the district and some of its officials for gender and wage discrimination.
Jodie Anderson, who worked as the district's HR director from July 2015 to June 2017, named Superintendent Dave Versteeg, School Board Vice President Jodi Draper, HR Director Tom Drzycimski and the school district in the civil lawsuit filed Friday in Cerro Gordo County District Court.
Anderson, whose starting salary was $80,000, began looking at salary structures and standards for administration compensation with then-Superintendent Anita Micich in August 2015, the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit states it appeared "men were being paid more than women for the same categories of work."
Anderson first mentioned her concern about the differences in pay between men and women with then-Interim Superintendent Michael Penca, then-School Board President Janna Arndt and then-School Board Vice President Lorrie Lala in June 2016, according to the lawsuit.
That lawsuit lists a timeline regarding pay raises for school district employees. In June 2017, Penca told Anderson she wasn't receiving a raise because the School Board "did not like how she had received her raises in the past," court documents said.
Anderson's wage was frozen at $87,550, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit indicates Anderson received "outstanding reviews and received compliments on her job performance at Board meetings."
Draper came into Anderson's office on June 19, 2017, and told her she sent an email to other School Board members asking for Anderson's termination.
"She told (Anderson) she wanted her to know about her desire to terminate (her) because there was an open records request from the media to view Board members' emails, and Defendant Draper was afraid her email would come out in the newspaper," according to the lawsuit.
On June 13, 2017, the Globe Gazette filed an open records request with the district for School Board members' emails regarding salaries for administrators, department heads and the finance department.
Anderson resigned in July 2017, after she decided not to renew her contract "as a result of this conversation (with Draper) and the way she had been discriminated against by the School Board," the lawsuit said.
She agreed to work as a HR consultant until Sept. 30, 2017, the lawsuit said, "because she would not have to interact with the School Board."
Later that year, school board members decided to hire Drzycimski as HR director for about $23,000 more than Anderson made, despite the "equal work, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility" of the role, according to the lawsuit.
Anderson complained about the hire to Versteeg, who "acknowledged the fact that they were going to have to pay a male candidate much more money than (Anderson)," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges Drzycimski, who does not have any experience in working in schools and had personal relationships with two board members, was "offered the position over two qualified female applicants."
Roxanne Conlin, a Des Moines-based attorney, filed the lawsuit with Kayla Burkhiser Reynolds. She told the Globe Gazette Wednesday she's been working on cases like this since the 1960s.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is one reason the case should be pretty clear-cut, according to Conlin. She added proof of intent isn't needed to prove discrimination took place.
"Usually, I don't file cases I don't have confidence in," Conlin said about her expectations for the case, later adding: "If they (school district officials) want to fight to the end, I'll get my battle gear."
The lawsuit lists three counts: gender discrimination, wage discrimination and retaliation. Conlin argued that Anderson be awarded compensatory damages, along with pay for lost earnings and emotional distress.
An exact amount isn't listed in the lawsuit, which states the school district should "be required to correct the discriminatory salaries being paid to women employees."
Regarding the last count, Conlin argued that Anderson's pay freeze was an act of retaliation because she had previously complained to school officials that female administrators had been paid less than their male colleagues for equal work.
Draper, when reached by phone Monday, said she had heard a lawsuit had been filed but declined to comment further. She referred a Globe Gazette reporter to School Board President Lorrie Lala, who wasn't listed as a co-defendant.
Lala said Monday she hadn't seen the lawsuit, and declined to comment.
Drzycimski, the school's HR director and another co-defendant in the lawsuit, was not at work Monday and could not be reached for comment.
Superintendent Dave Versteeg, another co-defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to two phone calls or an email requesting comment Monday.
The school district released a statement Monday that Anderson received more than $7,500 in excess pay without board approval, confirmed by a re-audit by the State Auditor's Office. It also stated Anderson voluntarily resigned from the district, despite multiple attempts to convince her to stay after her notice of resignation.
District officials also noted Drzycimski, who served as the chief administrative administrative officer for Cerro Gordo County for more than 20 years, has "significantly more public sector human resources experience than Ms. Anderson."
"The District is fully confident in its position and that its actions will be vindicated by a court of law," the statement concluded.
Conlin said she doesn't expect the case to go to trial, but added it's up to the school district to file a response to her initial lawsuit, and decide what legal route to take.
She's confident, however, that the Equal Pay Act of 1963, among other factors, makes a solid case for Anderson.
"They (school officials) really have had 50 years to learn the law," Conlin said.