In a complaint filed in April with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning accused the Reynoldsburg school district of racial and gender discrimination and retaliation.

By law, a person must file a discrimination charge with the federal agency before he or she can file a job-discrimination lawsuit.

In the complaint, obtained by The Columbus Dispatch, Thomas-Manning, who is a black woman, said the discrimination started on or about Sept. 1, 2016, and was ongoing. She said the issues were "discharge, harassment, terms/conditions."

The board voted 4-1 on Sept. 20 to not renew her contract. It expires July 31.

The form is mostly check-boxes with no narrative or detail. It also doesn't explain the retaliation claim, but the commission website says employers are legally prohibited from punishing workers for insisting on being protected from discrimination. Examples of punishment are reprimanding them, giving them a lower performance evaluation or making their work life more difficult.

The reasons Thomas-Manning might sue were not included in a legal settlement she reached last week with the school board, which says the sides "negotiated extensively and in good faith." Thomas-Manning agreed not to sue the district for any reason and the board "denies any and all claims that Ms. Thomas-Manning may have asserted."

In exchange, the district will employ her for a year as an education consultant, and will pay her a salary of $100,000 plus benefits and vacation time.

The school board approved that settlement contract with no public discussion or comment and did not provide a copy of it until a reporter made a request under the Ohio Open Records Act.

Both sides have declined to comment. Nondisclosure clauses are included in that settlement.

Dennis Hetzel, president and executive director of the Ohio News Media Association, said the Reynoldsburg school board might have said just enough publicly about the vote not to run afoul of the Open Meetings Act.

"Someone would have to litigate that," Hetzel said. "It's certainly questionable, and certainly flies in the spirit of the Open Meetings law to be that circuitous with the general public at an open meeting.

"It's simply not good public policy, and they really should be sort of ashamed of themselves for being that oblique."

Thomas Hodson, a public-records expert and former judge, said someone could argue in court that the vote, as taken, was invalid.

"To adopt something that is a public record but to do it without disclosing the public record -- it could be argued that it's against the spirit, if not the letter, of the law," Hodson said.

The battle between the superintendent and a majority of board members has taken place over about a year and a half.

Thomas-Manning became superintendent in 2014, not long before a 15-day teachers strike in September of that year that created enduring bad feelings in the community.

In fall 2015, three newcomers -- Debbie Dunlap, Rob Truex and Neal Whitman -- ran for the school board and won seats on a promise of rebuilding trust and mutual respect with district staff members.

In March 2016, Dunlap went to Thomas-Manning's office, according to emails between the board and the superintendent, and told her that she should resign for the good of the district.

About a week later, Thomas-Manning emailed the board to say that two community members had stopped by during her office hours to "antagonize me to resign my position as superintendent."

"As my employer, I am seeking your assistance in protecting my legal right to execute my responsibilities without harassment," she wrote.

"I no longer feel safe to hold my evening office hours or my public coffee chats, as I feel that I have unfortunately become a target for a faction in this community that refuses to afford me the right to do my job without added pressure and threats."

Over July and August 2016, board members changed Thomas-Manning's contract to boost the district's contribution to her retirement account and to take out a performance bonus.

When they realized they couldn't unilaterally strip the contract of merit pay, they voted to award Thomas-Manning a zero percent bonus out of a possible 12 percent.

"This is totally inappropriate," she said at the time. "And there's nothing I can do."

sgilchrist@dispatch.com

@shangilchrist