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Massive Settlement Reached Between R-IV School District, Former Principal

REEDS SPRING, Mo. -- Half-a-million dollars. Ultimately, taxpayer dollars. That's what the Reeds Spring School District recently shelled out to one of its now former employees.

It's the end result of a settlement, stemming from a lawsuit against the school district that stemmed from charges of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

First, the plaintiff and the defendant.

The plaintiff, Jodi Gronvold - an employee of the district for 22 years and principal of the intermediate school for the last 12 years.

The defendants - the Reeds Spring School District...

...and Michael Mason - the current Reeds Spring school superintendent, who's worked for the district since 1987.

He's been superintendent since 2008.

According to documents obtained by KOLR10, it all began two years ago in April of 2015 when Gronvold alleged Mason was making inappropriate sexual advances toward her.

According to court documents - filed by her lawyer, Jay Kirksey - Gronvold alleges Mason was inappropriate with her through text messages during and after school hours.

Invitations to dinner and conferences... personal questions and compliments... and comments about watching her on video.

In her lawsuit, Kirkey writes on April 21, 2015, Mason reportedly, "commanded her to stand up, turn around at her desk, and lifted her shirt from mid-thigh to mid-back."

He then reportedly said to her, "You can text me later if you want to know why I did that."

Gronvold also filed a complaint with the school district which was investigated by the district Title IX coordinator.

KOLR10 submitted a Sunshine Request for those documents - but because they are considered "a personnel matter", we were denied.

However, Kirksey wrote in the lawsuit that the investigation found Mason did, in fact, engage in "conduct of sexual harassment."

According to court records, it said in part quote:

"There were some occurrences of sexual harassment... as defined by board policy/regulation 4810...."

"Both parties indicated consistent accounts of texts involving invites to dinner with wine."

"Although the intention of the sender may not have been of a sexual nature, Ms. Gronvold has made clear in her statements that she did perceive that invite as unwelcome sexual advance."

According to the documents, after Gronvold filed those complaints, she reportedly became a victim of retaliation.

In fact, inside the amended petition filed by Kirksey the next month in May of 2015, it says his client was retaliated against in the form of negative comments, retaliatory emails, and continued confrontations with Mason.

A complaint was filed with Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

According to the complaint., Gronvold says she was subjected to a hostile work environment, claiming the retaliation stemmed from rejecting Mason's advances.

The EEOC agreed, issuing a notice of "right to sue" under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Gronvold also claimed the school board degraded her in closed sessions.

As a result, the lawsuit was settled out of court.

Court documents say the school district agreed to pay Gronvold $500,000 dollars.

Gronvold agreed to resign.

And the district has no obligation to hire her back.

According to Board Minutes posted online in February in a closed session, the board approved and accepted her request of resignation.

Mason is still the current superintendent.

In fact, KOLR10 also obtained a copy of a letter of a recommendation he wrote to help in her job search.

As part of the settlement agreement, the attorneys for the school district., Mr. Mason and Ms. Gronvold's attorneys all declined an interview.  The Reeds Spring school district, however, did provide a statement to KOLR10
  
It reads...

"For privacy reasons, the district does not publicly comment on specific personnel matters.

The district is steadfastly committed to providing an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment for all students and staff.

As part of this commitment, the district promptly investigates and takes remedial action when necessary in response to any complaint of

Discrimination or harassment in compliance with its policies."


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