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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A former principal at the Kentucky School for the Blind has accused the Kentucky Department of Education of gender discrimination in a lawsuit filed this week in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Deborah Phillips, who was principal at the Frankfort Avenue school from Dec. 30, 2013, until July 26, 2016, claims in court documents that she was "treated less favorably than similarly situated male employees" and held to higher standards than her male peers, ultimately resulting in her firing.

In particular, she claims the state department required her to get an additional teaching certificate for teaching visually impaired students at her own expense, but did not require a similar certificate for her male counterpart at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, Ky. 

The filing also says she earned “a steady stream of accolades” from state education leaders and her supervisor, and that her school received high marks on external audits.

However, Phillips alleges that state support “dropped dramatically” after former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt was hired in October 2015. Pruitt resigned suddenly earlier this month during a special meeting of a newly constituted Kentucky Board of Education.

“During one meeting with Mr. Pruitt, he explicitly stated to Mrs. Phillips, ‘You can get on my bus, or get gone [sic],’” the lawsuit says. “Mrs. Phillips was surprised at this statement, considering that she had always worked tirelessly to advance the interests of the KSB and KDE, alike.”

The Kentucky Department of Education declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed Monday, because it is pending.

Prior to joining the Kentucky School for the Blind, Phillips was a teacher, associate principal at South Oldham Middle School and an education recovery leader with the state education department, court records show.

Phillips was set to begin her 38th year in education before she was fired in 2016, according to the lawsuit. Her attorney, Stewart Abney, told WDRB News that she has since been rehired at another school district, but declined to identify it.

“It’s our position in the lawsuit that her gender played a role in the KDE’s decision to end her employment, or at least how she was treated during her employment,” Abney said Friday.

Phillips is seeking a jury trial and damages.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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