Woman claims disability discrimination
Friday, January 10, 2003 - 10:43:32 PM MST
By Howard Breuer
A teacher and project coordinator with multiple sclerosis has sued the Pasadena Unified School District and Superintendent Percy Clark, alleging she was discriminated against because of her disability.
Alma Dillard says her bosses not only dragged their heels in response to requests for handicapped parking and button-operated doors but also demoted her in retaliation.
Her attorney, Joe Hopkins, says he made every effort to resolve the matter without success. A claim he filed April 5, seeking $1 million plus attorney fees and damages, was rejected by the district.
Although the allegations seem unusual, Hopkins insists they are real, and that the problem can be traced back to Clark.
"I think Clark feels the only people he wants to trust in certain jobs are people he puts there and people who don't complain, regardless of what they complain about. He's a vindictive person,' Hopkins said.
The district's spokesman disagreed, saying Clark has no such biases against longtime district employees or those seeking necessary changes.
Clark "acknowledges that, without listening to constructive criticism, (the district) cannot grow as an institution,' said PUSD spokesman Erik Nasarenko.
Nasarenko said he could not discuss Dillard's specific allegations because the matter will be litigated.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 27 in Pasadena Superior Court, says that, beginning in October 2000, Dillard repeatedly complained the doors to the PUSD's main buildings were too heavy for her.
Dillard says she'd "wait on someone to show up to open the door. The waiting was stressful, humiliating and unhealthy.'
She asked the district to install a system that opened the front and bathroom doors automatically or via a push-button she could reach from her scooter.
On Dec. 19, 2001, Dillard filed a disability discrimination complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
In response, the lawsuit says, her superiors on March 12 demoted her from her position as district partnership academies coordinator which she had held since 1991. Her new assignment in a non-management position was in a work site which also had no accommodations for her disability, the lawsuit says.
"They never made any changes until the summer of 2002 two years later and after they made the accommodations designed for her they kicked her out of the job,' Hopkins said.
Two months later, on May 30, Dillard fell while traversing a parking lot that lacked handicapped parking access, Hopkins said.
Dillard has since been out on disability leave and has a separate action against the district pertaining to a knee injury from the fall, he said.
Dillard is one of at least three PUSD educators who filed discrimination lawsuits in 2002.
Kathleen Bradley, a former special education teacher who was injured in a fall at Altadena Elementary School in December 2000, says the district fired her instead of finding her a job that fit her restrictions.
Also last year, Marshall Fundamental School dean Temetra Gronemeier sued for age discrimination after she was denied a promotion to principal.
Howard Breuer can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4444
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