Former SLPS guidance counselor wins case against school district for gender discrimination, retaliation

Published: Jun. 30, 2023 at 4:47 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A St. Louis jury made a unanimous verdict that found St. Louis Public Schools liable for gender discrimination and retaliation against a former high school guidance counselor from 2013 to 2017.

The jury reached a verdict in favor of Ron Spivey on his claims against the St. Louis Public School District for gender discrimination and retaliation by his former supervisor, Dr. ChanTam Trinh, who was an assistant principal at Soldan when Spivey was fired.

Spivey was a guidance counselor and track and cross-country coach at the Soldan International Studies High School. Court releases say Spivey received positive performance reviews for most of his tenure and was beloved by the students and athletes. Spivey claims this changed when Dr. Trinh arrived at Soldan during the 2013-2014 school year, where she proceeded to take over supervising the counseling department.

In court documents, Spivey claims that Dr. Trinh began to “nitpick” Spivey’s performance, give him negative reviews, and place him on performance improvement plans. Spivey said his female colleagues did not receive the same treatment from Dr. Trinh.

Court documents claim that in February of 2017, Dr. Trinh became angry at Spivey during a regular attendance meeting and began to yell, hit the table and clap her hands at him while accusing Spivey of making her look like a “fool” in SLPD’s central office Downtown. The day after Dr. Trinh yelled at Spivey, Spivey was placed on a new performance improvement plan which was claimed to be for performance issues, and that was unrelated to the earlier meeting.

Court documents claim the plan Spivey was placed on was vaguely written and contained little information on what he should do to improve his performance and was “designed for him to fail.”

Spivey complained that he was being unfairly targeted by Dr. Trinh, and the school district did not investigate his complaints.

In March 2017, Dr. Trinh failed Spivey on his performance improvement plan. Afterward, Spivey requested to be transferred to a different high school to escape discrimination from Dr. Trinh at Soldan. The transfer was arranged but was blocked, and Spivey was fired without explanation by the school district.

In the trial, the school district argued that Spivey was ineligible for a transfer, but evidence showed that his transfer had been approved by the SLPS’s Director of Performance Management and that the school district had a history of approving similar transfers to solve personnel issues.

The jury awarded Spivey $940,000 in compensatory damages for his lost wages and benefits, as well as for the emotional distress he suffered. The jury also found that the SLPS’s conduct was “outrageous” due to its “reckless indifference to the rights of others” and assessed an additional $5,200,000 in punitive damages against the school district.

News 4 reached out to the SLPS for comment and a spokesperson for the school stated, “We are disappointed with the verdict that was reached and are exploring our options for an appeal.”