Fired Teacher Wins $353K Claiming Mistreatment Due to Disability
When a Wisconsin kindergarten teacher was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she requested a reassignment to a first grade class, thinking that would relieve some of her stress. She also was managing fibromyalgia and depression, but wanted to continue working with the students, and felt capable of it, with that one small change.
Instead of granting her request at the beginning of the school year, the Somerset School District in Madison, Wis., transferred Renae Ekstrand to a classroom beside the cafeteria that had "no windows to the outside, and is extremely loud because of its location," according to her complaint.
Courthouse News reports that "Because of its proximity to the cafeteria/commons and pass-through areas, the outside noise was extremely disruptive, making it very difficult to conduct class; the lack of natural light was exacerbating her depression; and the poor lighting was causing problems such as headaches and irritability for Ekstrand, as well as her students."
The complaint states that another teacher offered to switch rooms with Ekstrand, but the principal wouldn't allow it. The situation became so unbearable, that Ekstrand requested sick leave until the beginning of the new semester in January. But this was denied her "because of the perceived nature of her disability necessitating a 'mental health' rather than physical health leave of absence."
Ekstrand's health prohibited her from returning to the room in January, as planned, and she didn't teach for the rest of the school year, but intended to return again the following fall. That's when school officials directed her to turn in her keys and badge -- without even allowing her the opportunity to return to the school or meet with her teaching team.
Recently, the issue was settled when a federal jury awarded Ekstrand more than $353,000 in damages, and her attorney, Carol Skinner, more than $21,000 in costs. Teachers are often able to continue their health care benefits after they leave the classroom, but the details on that have not been divulged in this case.
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