Former Houston school employee sues system for alleged ADA violation

obrown@macon.comJune 20, 2014 

A former Houston County school employee has filed a lawsuit against the system, claiming that she was a victim of disability discrimination.

In her complaint, Robin Brown Bray said she has severe respiratory problems that were aggravated by dust from repeated repairs on heating and air conditioning equipment at her school. In time, she maintained, she lost her job because of school officials’ “reckless indifference” to her condition.

In her lawsuit, Bray contends that she was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her suit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Macon, names as defendants the Houston County school board; Marianne Melnick, chairwoman of the board; and Mark Scott, superintendent of Houston County schools.

Beth McLaughlin, the system’s director of community and school affairs, said Friday that the district had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit. She also said it is the system’s policy not to comment on lawsuits until they’re concluded.

Bray said in her suit that the system hired her as a preschool special education teacher in 1998, first at Pearl Stephens Elementary and then at Lake Joy Elementary. In 2010, she was transferred to the Elberta Center to become an “early intervention specialist” with the Child Find program. She said she was able to perform that job despite her disability.

In September 2012, Bray said she became ill at work because of her disability, asthma and allergies, after being overwhelmed by dust generated from repairs to the HVAC system and having an anaphylactic episode related to the dust. She was hospitalized for a couple of days.

She returned to work, but in October she became sick again and was hospitalized for respiratory issues. She was released to return to work, with restrictions, which included the use of an inhaler and nebulizer, a device often used to help asthma sufferers inhale medicine directly into the lungs.

Bray contends in her suit that she wasn’t allowed to return to work with those restrictions and was forced to “pack her things and leave.”

She continued to have respiratory issues related to her disability, asthma and allergies, through the end of 2012 and into January 2013. She was out frequently or often worked in other buildings to avoid the dust created by renovations at the Elberta Center.

At one point, she asked to move to another building because of the renovations, but that request was denied.

Bray was out of work off and on because of her respiratory problems, then she finally filed for short-term disability on May 14, 2013.

She said she met with a school system representative that month to discuss her position for the following school year, and she was told she would be sent back to the classroom to teach.

She asked for another position within the Child Find program, saying she was more suited to that role and that the program would be based in another building. The system, however, hired someone with less experience than Bray for that job, her suit said.

Bray was out on disability from May 14, 2013, until she was forced to either resign her position or retire on April 17, 2014.

She seeks reinstatement to her former position, or a similar job, as well as back pay with interest, compensation for her lost seniority, benefits and pension and punitive damages.

To contact writer Oby Brown, call 744-4396.

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