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New York Disability Discrimination Hurts Everyone

The woman at the center of a New York discrimination lawsuit later told reporters it wasn’t about the money. wheelchairblue.jpg

Despite the $83,000 settlement the former special needs teacher received, she echoed what many of our clients say: It was about the principle of equality in the workforce.

It’s something our New York employment litigation attorneys take very seriously. We believe that each of these civil rights cases that is won gets us all one step closer to a more diverse – and ultimately better – workforce.

The truth is, not only is discrimination flat-out illegal and morally wrong, but it impedes innovation and progress if everyone within a company or industry is exactly the same.

Disability discrimination, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), happens when an employer treats either an employee or a job candidate unfavorably simply because he or she has a disability. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee or prospective job candidate who has a disability, except if doing so would cause some sort of undue hardship. Generally, these laws are going to apply to all government and private employers who have more than 15 employees.

Reasonable accommodations would be such measures as modifying or providing certain devices or equipment, modifying work schedules or positions and making the workplace accessible and usable for those who are disabled.

Those things were reportedly at the center of the suit filed by the former West New York elementary special needs school teacher.

According to local news reports, the teacher fell at work back in 2006. She subsequently underwent knee surgery, but that only appeared to worsen her condition. The doctor informed her that if she was going to return to work, she would need to do so with a motorized scooter.

She did return, but was soon transferred by the district to the middle school, which was apparently better suited to her mobility needs, according to the school. However, the teacher said in her 2009 Division on Civil Rights Complaint that the middle school was not any better suited to accommodate her.

In one instance, the teacher was reprimanded for filing a complaint against a student who reportedly threw a bicycle at her. However, the administrative meeting she was to attend regarding that incident was inaccessible to her scooter. Forced to use a cane to navigate the building, she reportedly slipped and fell.

In another instance, her identification card, which gave her access to the school’s automatic handicap doorway, stopped working. The school, she says, did nothing to rectify the situation once informed of it. Following fire drills, she was left in the parking lot because she couldn’t get back in. She had to call another teacher to open the door.

There were also instances where other non-handicapped employees used the handicap parking spaces, leaving it inaccessible to her.

She was later fired.

All of these incidents collectively amount to a solid case for disability discrimination by the district, which is probably what ultimately led to their settlement agreement.

In addition to the payment the district must make to its former employee, the settlement agreement also mandates that the school will hold anti-discrimination training seminars for all management staff.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
‘Not about the money’, WNY school board to pay $83K in disability settlement, By Gennarose Pope, The Hudson Reporter

More Blog Entries:
New York Employment Discrimination Not Always Easily Recognizable, June 10, 2012, New York City Employment Lawyer Blog