Disability Discrimination: School District to Pay Parapro $85,699 in Back Pay & Compensatory Damages

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Spencer East Brookfield School District (MA) terminated a paraprofessional with knee and shoulder impairments after she requested to be excused from a new district policy requiring paraprofessionals to be trained to physically restrain school children and be available to perform restraints.

On July 30, 2020, the Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with the district that included $85,699 in back pay & compensatory damages.

Background
“The complainant worked for the School District for approximately 12 years, the majority of time as a paraprofessional, where she supported students in the classroom by working with them to reinforce learning skills . . . The employee was otherwise qualified to perform her job”.

The DOJ determined that “She has physical impairments, including a torn rotator cuff, rotator cuff disease, a shoulder tear, joint pain, loose bodies in the shoulder, degenerative osteoarthritis bursitis, and a torn meniscus. These impairments substantially limit one or more major life activities, e.g., lifting and bending, as well as the operation of major bodily functions, e.g., the musculoskeletal function; and/or has a record of such impairments.'”

“The complainant worked for the School District for approximately 12 years, the majority of time as a paraprofessional, where she supported students in the classroom by working with them to reinforce learning skills . . . The employee was otherwise qualified to perform her job”.

“In 2016, the School District implemented a new requirement that paraprofessionals undergo restraint training so that they could become certified and called upon to physically restrain students … the complaint alleges that School District failed to provide the complainant with the reasonable accommodation her doctor recommended that she not be required to physically restrain students, and be excused from training that required physical simulations of restraints.”

The paraprofessional “submitted multiple notes from her doctor stating that she could not physically restrain students.” She was scheduled to have knee surgery and informed the district that “it would be up to her doctor as to whether she would be able to restrain children after she recovered from the surgery.”

The district “terminated her employment on October 17, 2016, stating in the termination letter to the complainant that, ‘your employment with the School District is terminated effective immediately because you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job,’ referring to being available to physically restrain children.”

In addition to revising its policies and staff training to ensure compliance with the ADA, the school district will pay their former employee $85,699.49 in back pay and compensatory damages.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said, “Work provides more than just a paycheck: it provides a sense of purpose, dignity, independence, self-worth, and belonging, Without reasonable accommodations for their jobs, many people with disabilities cannot work and, as a result, are unable to achieve economic self-sufficiency and full participation in the workforce. As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the ADA, the Civil Rights Division renews its commitment to ensuring that all individuals have an equal opportunity to work free from discrimination based on disability.”

Read the Complaint: https://www.ada.gov/spencer_east_complaint.html

Read the Settlement Agreement:    https://www.ada.gov/spencer_east_sa.html

Read the Press Release: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-settles-school-district-resolve-disability-discrimination-complaint

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