Former Evergreen School District Superintendent Katherine Gomez has filed a lawsuit against her former employer alleging unequal pay, gender discrimination and retaliation.
The lawsuit, which was filed last month in the U.S. District Court, alleges that the district paid Gomez significantly less than her male predecessor, Clifton Black, despite having similar “experience, education and ability.”
Gomez retired in January 2019 after eight years as superintendent and more than 30 years with the district overall.
While Gomez and Black both had starting salaries at $180,000, the wage gap between the two grew to $34,000 by their respective sixth year as superintendent. In the lawsuit, Gomez lists trustee and former San Jose City Council candidate Jim Zito as the “leading decision maker” for her compensation, which was set by the five-member school board.
In June 2016, Gomez complained to the board about the unequal pay after a 2015 district compensation report showed that she was the lowest paid superintendent by a “significant amount” compared to seven comparable school districts.
At an Oct. 13, 2016, board of trustee meeting, board members reportedly agreed she was underpaid and planned to retroactively increase her salary by 4.5 percent to July 1, 2016, once union negotiations finalized.
Zito opposed the salary bump while Sylvia Arenas, now a councilwoman for the Evergreen area, said what Gomez was experiencing sounded like gender discrimination.
According to the lawsuit, “a board member reported that Mr. Zito stated the only reason two female board members wanted to increase Ms. Gomez’s pay was because they had ‘the same thing between their legs.’”
Zito, who was accused of sexist and abusive behavior during his recent unsuccessful council bid, lambasted the accusations.
While he said he couldn’t comment on “specific merits” of the case since it involves pending litigation, he expressed disappointment with Gomez’s decision to take legal action “against [the] inadequately funded school district.”
“Any decisions regarding salary or benefit increases require a vote of the entire five-member board, so the notion that any one board member unilaterally makes an important decision like this is simply not credible,” he said in a written statement to San Jose Inside. “My own decisions regarding employee compensation are based entirely on merit and/or the district’s limited financial resources. Any statements regarding alleged comments I made of a crude or sexist nature, or of bullying behavior are patently false and are gross misrepresentations of the truth.”
Despite the verbal agreement made at the October 2016 meeting to increase Gomez’s pay, trustee Bonnie Mace and Zito refused to honor it at a meeting the following year. Mace allegedly cited declining enrollment and lack of funds. Negotiations between the district and Gomez would continue for the next year.
“During these negotiations, the district agreed to provide a 2 percent increase retroactive to July 2016 and a 2.5 percent increase retroactive to July 2017, but only if Ms. Gomez agreed to modify her three year contract to only one year, which term would be renewed only at the board’s discretion based on a satisfactory performance review. Ms. Gomez declined the offer,” the lawsuit read.
In February 2018, Gomez filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging sex and gender discrimination.
The month prior, the district’s chief business officer, Nelly Yang, also reportedly filed a DFEH complaint alleging unequal pay due to her gender.
After months of mediation, Gomez claims she was given a “retaliatory false and negative performance review despite her excellent performance.”
“The evaluation misrepresented and degraded Ms. Gomez’s achievements,” the lawsuit said. “It stated that she had created an ‘adversarial relationship’ with the board.”
In her eighth and final year as superintendent, Gomez’s pay was $191,426.
Both Gomez and the Evergreen School District declined to comment.