Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, July 9 newspaper on Page A1.
GLOUSTER — A lawsuit a female school bus driver filed against Trimble Local School Board and one of its members, Kevin Coey, alleges he harassed her before and after he was elected to the board.
Elizabeth Taylor filed the lawsuit last week in Athens County Common Pleas Court. It alleges sexual harassment and creation of a hostile work environment; retaliation by Coey; negligent supervision of Coey by the school board; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Coey, contacted Monday by The Messenger, denied the allegations in the lawsuit, including that there was any sexual harassment.
Coey became a school board member in January 2018. His wife has been a school bus driver at Trimble since 2015.
The lawsuit alleges that after his wife became a bus driver, Coey would come to the bus garage and sit in a lounge where female drivers congregated.
“Defendant Coey stared at the female bus drivers and made them uncomfortable,” the court case claims. “When the female bus drivers would walk away in order to avoid Coey, he would follow them, sometimes even leaving his wife sitting by herself.”
The lawsuit states that Taylor complained to her immediate supervisor, Robert Lowery, in September 2017 about Coey’s behavior. Lowery is the school district’s transportation supervisor.
“(Taylor) told Lowery that Coey was staring at the behinds of the female bus drivers and that he was intimidating them,” the lawsuit asserts, and it claims Lowery spoke to Coey more than once about the issue.
Coey told The Messenger that it is common for family members to go to the bus garage, and he would take his daughter there. Coey said it would have been fine with him if there was a policy against family members visiting the garage, but feels he is being singled out.
After Taylor’s complaint to Lowery, Coey would sit on his wife’s school bus and watch the other driver until his wife left on her bus route, the court case alleges. It also claims that Coey complained to former Supt. Scott Christman that he (Coey) was being singled out by Lowery, but that Christman allegedly reaffirmed Lowery’s instruction that Coey should not be hanging out at the bus garage.
Coey then began parking in the bus garage parking lot and watching Taylor and the other drivers, the lawsuit claims.
In November of 2017, according to the lawsuit, Taylor wrote the school board asking for help. The following month she attended a school board meeting, along with her co-workers and her husband, to follow up on the letter. Union representative Gary Arnold also complained to the superintendent about Coey’s alleged behavior.
Taylor filed a formal complaint, which triggered a formal investigation by the school board.
Coey won election to the school board in November of 2017. He began serving in January of 2018.
“That same month, in an act of solidarity for (Taylor), most of the bus drivers refused to return to the bus garage because Coey was sitting there,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims that in January of 2018 Coey “brandished a handgun” at Taylor’s husband.
Asked by The Messenger if the gun incident happened, Coey replied, “absolutely not. I don’t carry a gun.”
In February of 2018, the school board received the results of the investigation.
“The results of the investigation ... largely corroborated plaintiff’s complaints,” the lawsuit claims. “The investigator reported that Mr. Coey ‘presents a menacing presence at the bus garage each morning’” and advised that Coey stay away from the garage and become familiar with ethics rules.
The lawsuit asserts that from January 2018 through May 2018, Coey “continued to appear at the bus garage and continued to exhibit stalking and menacing behavior” toward Taylor.
Coey disputes that.
“As soon as I was aware she had a complaint, I never went back to the garage,” Coey claimed to The Messenger.
In May 2018, Taylor went on disability leave and is being treated for anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit, which states that Taylor was paid through October 2018 but is no longer being paid.
In sum, the lawsuit states that during the course of the alleged incidents involving Coey, Taylor had complained to her immediate supervisor, her union representative, the superintendent, the school board and to police.
The court case seeks in excess of $25,000 for lost past and future wages and benefits, in excess of $25,000 for emotional distress, and in excess of $25,000 in punitive damages against Coey. The lawsuit also seek compensatory damages.