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Former teacher sues SV district

Alleges hostile environment

CRANBERRY TWP — A former special education teacher accused Seneca Valley School District of creating a “sexually hostile work environment” and retaliating against her for reporting discrimination to state and federal agencies tasked with enforcing civil rights in the workplace.

Stephanie Carney, a kindergarten through grade four life skills teacher for Seneca Valley from 2019 through 2021, sued the district in federal court Dec. 29, alleging the district perpetuated the hostile work environment, discriminated against her based on sex and disability and took steps to retaliate against and fire her based on Carney's reports to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Seneca Valley spokeswoman Linda Andreassi said the district will fight the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit was filed by an individual who is no longer employed by the Seneca Valley School District,” Andreassi said. “We strongly believe these claims are unfounded and will vigorously contest them in court.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, states Carney went on unpaid medical leave from December 2019 through May 2020 following a medical episode “as a result of the sexually hostile work environment” perpetuated by Seneca Valley. While on leave, the lawsuit claims, Carney obtained a medical diagnosis and provided it to the district.

In June 2020, the lawsuit states, Carney filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC “alleging sex discrimination, a sexually hostile work environment, discrimination based on (Carney's) disability and retaliation.”

“Following the filing of that charge of discrimination, (Seneca Valley) subjected (Carney) to retaliatory harassment, repeatedly made unfounded attacks on (Carney's) job performance and overly scrutinized (her) work,” the filing alleges. “By way of example, throughout the 2020-21 school year, (Seneca) repeatedly required (Carney) to alter her students' Individual Education Programs without any reasonable or valid justification.”

Seneca Valley, the lawsuit further alleges, set “unreasonable expectations and deadlines ... that were impossible for (Carney) to meet” after her filing of a discrimination charge, leading to the district disciplining her for “failure to meet the ... unreasonable expectations.”

Supervisors at Seneca also “made negative comments” about Carney's disability, the lawsuit claims, including “derogatory comments about (her disability) made by administrators.” In June 2021, the lawsuit states, Carney's job was terminated.

The lawsuit alleges that Seneca violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, ran afoul of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and unlawfully retaliated against her for “engaging in a protected activity” — that is, filing complaints with the EEOC and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Carney seeks that the court declare Seneca Valley's actions unlawful, award her back pay and other benefits she lost due to her termination and reinstatement her to her position, along with other compensatory and punitive damages.