March court date scheduled for teacher lawsuit against WCS

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published January 22, 2024

Shutterstock image


STERLING HEIGHTS/DETROIT — Two female Sterling Heights High School teachers who six months ago filed a lawsuit against Warren Consolidated Schools are expected to be back in court for an interim status conference March 4.

The upcoming court hearing is scheduled to determine if the case will go to trial or if the litigants will agree on a settlement.

On July 17 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Sterling Heights High School teachers Amy Ryntz and Ashlee Schoen filed a formal complaint against the district claiming they were discriminated against because of their gender and were deprived of employment opportunities and financial compensation.

Ryntz began working for the district in January 2000 while Schoen was hired in July 2002. According to court documents, both plaintiffs were employed as contract teachers, with Ryntz primarily teaching social studies and Schoen teaching English and social studies.

The lawsuit alleges that Warren Consolidated Schools discriminated against the plaintiffs by providing them with lower pay than that of their male colleagues on the basis of their gender, even though the plaintiffs performed similar duties and/or were qualified to perform such duties requiring the same skill, effort and responsibility of their male counterparts.

Ryntz and Schoen also said in the lawsuit that they suffered lost earnings and earning capacity, lost career opportunities and benefits, and suffered emotional distress and mental anguish. The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Eric Stempien of Stempien Law, PLLC, in Livonia, and Nadine Dabaja, based in Dearborn.

“During the course of plaintiff’s employment, defendant continuously demonstrated preferential treatment to male teachers by providing them with opportunities for additional compensation and making frequent and disruptive changes to plaintiffs’ course schedules while maintaining those of male teachers,” the lawsuit claims. “Plaintiffs reported the preferential treatment of male teachers and lack of opportunity for additional compensation to defendants and were repeatedly ignored.”

In one part of their complaint, Ryntz and Schoen said school administrators assigned overages to teachers, which meant that extra students are placed in a teacher’s class and teachers are provided additional compensation for the overage assignments. However, Ryntz and Schoen both claimed they “rarely received overage assignments,” which were instead given to male colleagues in their respective departments. Ryntz also said the criminal and civil law course she created and taught exclusively for many years was reassigned to a male teacher, who was also assigned overages to the course.

The lawsuit also alleges that when instructors were teaching virtually and in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, school personnel “offered additional compensation to male teachers to teach an additional course during their planning period” but the “plaintiffs were never given the opportunity to receive additional compensation for teaching a course during their planning period.”

The district is facing two counts of violating the Equal Pay Act of 1963, two counts of violating Title IX and two counts of violating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

It is unclear whether or not the two teachers are still employed with Warren Consolidated Schools. District Superintendent Robert Livernois declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“The district is currently in negotiation with the union representing the teachers and can provide no additional comment,” he said via email.

In December 2021, the two plaintiffs met with union representatives to proclaim their complaints about “the discriminatory practices” surrounding the unequal pay and preferential treatment in the school’s social studies department.

Per the lawsuit, union representatives reportedly directed the plaintiffs to the district’s former human resources director, who at the time informed the union the district did not “find validity in the depth and breadth of (the) claims.”

According to the lawsuit, in December 2022, Ryntz and Schoen filed a grievance through their union against the district.

If a settlement can’t be reached, the court has scheduled a jury trial to begin next year, on Jan. 10, 2025, in the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse, in Detroit, before Judge Laurie J. Michelson.