Aquia Harbour woman battles Prince William school system to regain her teaching job
June 20th, 2003
By Pamela Gould
EEOC supports teacher's claim against district
The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing a complaint against the Prince William County school system brought by an Aquia Harbour woman who said she was discriminated against after disclosing a medical disability.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission conducted the initial investigation and found in favor of Darlene Matteson, who was diagnosed more than a dozen years ago with multiple sclerosis.
After attempts to resolve the matter with school officials failed, the EEOC forwarded the case to the Justice Department, according to EEOC investigator Sharriff Thompson.
"We found sufficient evidence that she had been discriminated against," Thompson said. "We tried several times to conciliate, but once the respondents [the school system] aren't interested, we pass it on."
Jennifer Porter, an attorney for the Prince William School Board, declined to comment, saying school policy precludes her from discussing personnel matters.
Casey Stavropoulos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to say this week what steps are being taken in Matteson's case. In civil-rights cases, the department either reviews the facts and continues attempts at mediation or opens its own investigation and pursues litigation.
Matteson, 49, taught at Triangle Elementary School from 1999 to 2001. Before that, she taught school in New York, where she has held a permanent teaching certificate since 1992. She also has both bachelor's and master's degrees.
According to EEOC records, her Prince William supervisor gave her an overall "E"--for effective--rating in her first-year evaluation, made positive remarks after formal and informal observations of her teaching and approved all of her lesson plans.
Matteson's contract was then renewed for a second year--the 2000-01 school year.
Toward the end of September 2000, Matteson disclosed to her principal that she had multiple sclerosis, but did not request any adjustment in duties, according to the EEOC records.
Subsequently, she was cited for 13 problems with her lesson plans, was the only teacher required to prepare them on a computer and in the spring was told her contract would not be renewed for a third year, EEOC records show.
After initially claiming two other teachers' contracts also were not renewed, the school system acknowledged that the other teachers quit.
"Based on the analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that the [school system] failed to renew [Matteson's] teaching contract because of her disability," the EEOC said in a report of its findings.
In an interview, Matteson said she wants to get back her teaching job at Triangle Elementary and the wages she lost when her contract was not renewed. She'd also like to be considered a fifth-year teacher--the level she would have been at if her employment had continued.
"This is working," she said, pointing at her head. "This isn't," she continued, motioning toward her legs.
Matteson had also alleged in her EEOC complaint that the school system
retaliated against her by giving negative references to prospective employers,
thus hindering her from getting other teaching jobs in the area. The EEOC
did not find sufficient evidence to support that claim.
Copyright © 2003, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co.