EAST ST. LOUIS — The superintendent of schools here sexually harassed a former employee repeatedly and then fired her in 2018 after she reported him for showing her a pornographic video against her will, according to a lawsuit in federal court.
The lawsuit, filed in September in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis by Yvette L. Jackson, alleges Superintendent Arthur R. Culver made sexually explicit comments about Jackson and other staff members, made “repeated unwelcome advances” toward Jackson and told her sexually explicit stories while mimicking sexual movements.
The harassment culminated in an incident April 1, 2018, when Culver showed Jackson, despite her objection, a pornographic video that depicted a male employee of the district in a sexual act and made an explicit comment about his own sexual preferences, according to the lawsuit. Jackson reported Culver to a district manager the next day and Culver eliminated her job in retaliation soon afterward, the lawsuit says. Jackson had been director of material management since 1998.
The lawsuit was first reported Tuesday by the Belleville News Democrat. In the suit, Jackson alleges Culver violated federal and state laws prohibiting sexual and racial discrimination in employment, including Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Gender Violence Act.
The suit also names the East St. Louis School Board as a defendant. A school district official referred a request for comment to its attorney, Garrett Hoerner.
In an email late Tuesday night, Hoerner wrote, “Our clients vehemently deny Plaintiff’s claims and intend to vigorously defend against same. I fully expect Plaintiff’s Complaint will be dismissed by the Federal District Court.”
Jackson reported Culver to the district purchasing adviser on April 2, the day after he showed her the pornographic video, according to the suit.
Culver then instructed the staff to exclude her from regular meetings and ostracize her, the suit says. At the next personnel committee meeting, Culver amended the meeting agenda to eliminate Jackson’s job.
School board members said that Culver had “grown angry” with Jackson but that they did not know why, according to the suit. The board members were confused by Culver’s behavior because Jackson had been an “integral employee” whom Culver “relied on and consulted daily.”
But the board approved Culver’s move to eliminate her job, the suit says.
Other allegations of sexual harassment detailed in the lawsuit begin in February 2017, when Culver visited Jackson’s office to view security video footage, the suit says. Culver closed her office door, went around her desk and sat atop her desk with his legs open and his crotch directly in her face, according to the suit.
That same year, Culver visited Jackson’s office to talk about a female security officer who had totaled a school district security vehicle, the suit says, and made a sexually explicit comment about the officer.
In another incident, Board President Kinnis Williams exchanged a fist bump with Jackson during a meeting in a conference room, after which Culver bumped his fist on Jackson’s upper thigh, causing her to jump, according to the suit. Williams and Culver often “competed for Alpha Male status” in her presence, the suit says.
In March 2018, Culver followed Jackson to her office and commented on her weight and her backside, saying, “You don’t want to lose too much from the wrong places,” the suit says.
In a later incident, Culver described “in painstaking detail” to Jackson a sexual fantasy another woman had allegedly envisioned about him, the suit says. The suit says the incident followed an event the night before that was hosted by a civil rights organization, but does not provide further details.
After a football game, Culver alleged to Jackson that he was sexually propositioned by a School Board member and began to mimic sexual gestures, the suit says.
“As in all the prior occurrences, Plaintiff attempted to change the subject and remind Defendant Superintendent Culver of the inappropriate nature of his actions,” the suit said. “Defendant Culver was undeterred by Plaintiff’s attempt and completed the story in graphic detail.”
Culver’s actions caused Jackson a panic attack, anxiety and high blood pressure, resulting in her taking medical leave, the suits says. In addition to damages, the suit calls for the district to grant Jackson back pay and reinstate her position, and for the school district board to post appropriate notices regarding employment discrimination on the basis of sex.