Bedford schools employee files $5 million+ civil rights lawsuit against school board, superintendent

Dr. Cherie Whitehurst has worked for Bedford County Public Schools since 1990

By Jeff Williamson - Digital Content Manager

BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. - The former deputy superintendent of Bedford County Schools, Dr. Cherie Whitehurst, has filed a discrimination case against the school district and the superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, seeks damages against the school district on the basis of her sex in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Schuch for his discriminatory actions against Whitehurst on the basis of her sex, denying her the equal protection of the laws as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, according to the filing.

Whitehurst, who has worked for the school district in various capacities since 1990, is seeking more than $5 million in compensatory and punitive damage, as well as front pay, including benefits, until June 30, 2027, and other payment.

The school system released this statement Thursday regarding the pending lawsuit:

"The School Board and Dr. Schuch vehemently deny any liability to Dr. Whitehurst and they intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit.  We believe that these claims are without merit and we plan to proceed accordingly.  We do not intend to comment further on the pending litigation at this time."

The Bedford native has been an assistant principal for both Staunton River Middle School and Jefferson Forest High School, the principal of Staunton River and Liberty high schools and assistant superintendent, before being promoted to her role of deputy superintendent in 2014.

The lawsuit claims, "Schuch’s inappropriate actions ran the gamut from exclusionary to offensive and manipulative."

Before listing some of Schuch's offenses, the suit claims "While the volume of these actions makes them too numerous to catalogue fully, the following items reflect many of Schuch’s worst actions and make clear the threat that he feels from successful, professional women who are merely trying to do their jobs and help the children of Bedford County learn."

The lawsuit claims that, on multiple occasions, when Whitehurst "respectfully questioned" Schuch, he commented that Whitehurst was "cycling," according to the suit.

The suit claims that, after Whitehurst reported Schuch to human resources, her concerns were shared with Schuch.

After a disagreement in May 2018, Schuch recommended the school board demote Whitehurst from deputy superintendent to principal, according to the filing.

After that, Whitehurst filed a claim of sex-based discrimination with the school board.

Rather than demote Whitehurst to a principal, Schuch signed a letter that would reassign her to a teaching position, according to the suit.

During a hearing on June 21, 2018, the school board upheld Schuch's recommendation of demotion, but rather than making Whitehurst a teacher, the school board assigned her to the position of instructional coach, according to the suit.

Whitehurst signed the contract for that position on June 28.

The suit states that, "as a result of these effects of discrimination, Dr. Whitehurst has been on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act since August 9, 2018, which leave will continue through the end of the current academic year and exhaust her accumulated sick leave."

The suit also states, "As a further result of these effects of discrimination, Dr. Whitehurst is no longer able – either physically or emotionally – to work in the field of education, which will require her to retire from her field of choice multiple years earlier than expected, at significant personal financial cost, and seek employment elsewhere."

The suit says, that after the emotional trauma Whitehurst has been through, "being in the work place causes ocular migraines, anxiety attacks with hyperventilation, exacerbation of depression, and a general decline in emotional stability. Dr. Whitehurst has been diagnosed with acute stress reaction, major depressive episode-moderate, and post-traumatic stress disorder and has been under the regular treatment of multiple counselors, including a counselor with training in assisting victims of trauma. The physical and mental effects of BCSB’s and Schuch’s discriminatory actions are expected to continue into the foreseeable future."

Copyright 2019 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.