ST. PETERSBURG — The president of St. Petersburg College said it was a professional courtesy. A woman who had been turned down for the top job at the college's downtown campus had filed a gender discrimination complaint; Bill Law decided to tell her current employer and all her references what she had done.
"I would certainly want to know if any of my senior employees was involved in a legal matter that could affect the college," Law wrote in a letter to Sherri Davis' boss.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saw Law's actions differently. The commission ruled in January that Law was retaliating against Davis, the academic dean at Lawson State Community College in Alabama, for speaking out about possible discrimination.
"It is likely that a reasonable person would be chilled and dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if their current employer and professional references were notified," Georgia Marchbanks, director of the EEOC's Tampa office, wrote in the ruling.
Now, Davis is suing Law and SPC's board of trustees for both retaliation and discrimination, seeking the provost position at the downtown campus, back pay and benefits, and other compensation. The lawsuit was filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
The equal employment commission did not find evidence of gender discrimination. Law faces no penalty from the EEOC for the retaliation ruling, but the finding could aid Davis in her legal case.
Davis did not receive permission from her attorneys to speak to the press in time to comment for this story.
The provost job went to Kevin Gordon, who was the principal of Gibbs High School at the time he was hired in late 2011. He holds a master's degree in educational leadership and, at the time of his hire, was nearly done with a doctorate in the same field from the University of South Florida.
According to Davis' LinkedIn page, she was a principal with Birmingham Public Schools before coming to Lawson State Community College. She holds a master's in education from Cambridge College and a doctorate degree in education administration and supervision from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Wilma Norton, a spokeswoman for SPC, said the college "is not in a position to comment on the lawsuit at this time."
Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] You can also follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).