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Ex-APS teacher sues district, alleges principal made sexual comments

A former Atlanta special education teacher is suing Atlanta Public Schools after she alleged she was forced to resign because of how the district handled complaints that she had been harassed by her boss.

Stephanie Fowler, who worked for APS from 2011 until January, is suing the school district in federal court following incidents at Kimberly Elementary School, where she began working in 2016. She alleges she was subject to “sexually explicit comments and behavior” by Joseph Salley, currently listed on the school’s website as its principal.

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School district spokesman Ian Smith said the district is aware of the lawsuit.

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“APS does not comment on pending litigation, but we plan to defend against Ms. Fowler’s claims in court,” he said, in a written statement.

Court documents filed Friday on behalf of Fowler state that female teachers, including Fowler, filed complaints against Salley. The district told Fowler that Salley “was working on his communication skills.”

In September, Fowler “received a poor evaluation,” according to court filings. Fowler was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and provided a doctor’s note recommending she be transferred to another site.

The lawsuit details a couple of alleged interactions between Fowler and the principal.

“Plaintiff advised Mr. Salley that she never had any principal speak to her in such a manner. Mr. Salley told plaintiff, ‘Oh, so you were a virgin and I was your first?’” the lawsuit states.

Fowler told the school district about the comments and was advised to take a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the suit. The district stated that Salley was placed on a professional development plan, the suit stated.

In November, Fowler’s doctor diagnosed her with a panic disorder and advised she not return to her workplace, the suit stated. Fowler alleges she requested several times to be transferred to another site but the request was not approved, and so she resigned.

Salley did not immediately respond to a reporter’s email asking for comment.

The lawsuit states that Fowler filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. An agency spokesman said he cannot comment on claims.

Fowler also filed a second EEOC claim regarding disability discrimination and retaliation. In that claim, the agency was “unable to conclude” that there was a violation and made no finding, according to court documents.

In the lawsuit, Fowler seeks unspecified financial damages, including back pay.

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