Two furloughed teachers from Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center are suing the school and its executive director in federal court for in excess of $50,000.
Christine McNelis and Wendy Koehle allege center Executive Director Lanny Ross violated civil rights laws by furloughing them.
The women seek to be awarded all compensatory damages, back pay and damages for future economic loss that they might sustain as a result of the alleged violation of their rights.
Altoona attorney Dave Andrews, who represents the center and Ross, said the federal lawsuit filed on behalf of McNelis and Koehle is full of "untruths and inaccuracies."
Andrews said there has been no violation of the laws.
Their complaint, filed by Attorney Edward Olds at U.S District Court in Johnstown, is built on an alleged grudge Ross held against McNelis, a special education teacher, for her prior complaint of sexual harassment that she reported to Ross in 2001.
Ross' alleged inaction and the retaliation that McNelis claimed following her report spurred her to file a civil complaint against the school and Ross, which was settled in 2005.
But McNelis alleges Ross' retaliation continued and culminated in her furlough in the 2010-11 school year.
Koehle, an English teacher, alleges her furlough this year resulted from her testimony supporting McNelis during an arbitration hearing. She believes Ross retaliated against her for her testimony, violating her First Amendment rights.
The complaint states that Ross' alleged actions toward McNelis violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who opposes sex-based discrimination, the complaint states.
The claims against the center have been through arbitration and the furloughs were upheld as proper, Andrews said, adding that the Pennsylvania Department of Education approved the furloughs.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reviewed the charges of discrimination and found against McNelis, he said.
Ross said McNelis' position was eliminated in 2010-11 because superintendents of the eight Blair County school districts affiliated with the center "made a decision to curtail that program. They were able to do those services back at home schools."
Ross said the school districts also decided to eliminate the English department at the center in 2012, resulting in the furlough of the center's two English teachers, John Bravin and Koehle.
"The students' home schools believed they had capacity to teach them English. Because of PSSA [state standardized test] accountability, they said they would rather teach it," Ross said. "They wanted to be accountable for their own student performance."
Andrews said he will file a response to the complaint, noting that it will be well before the deadline set by the federal court because "we feel so strongly about the case."
The complaint against Ross subjects him to individual liability under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, not only for actions including furloughing McNelis, but for interfering with her ability to find employment at schools affiliated with the center, the document states.
The federal court in Johnstown refers most cases to alternative dispute resolution, a procedure to see if the issues can be worked out before the case is put on track for trial.
"Unlike a lot of other cases, we have had lengthy arbitration proceedings," Andrews said.
He said the school and Ross would "vigorously defend" their positions.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435. Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.