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DISABILITY-RESEARCH  January 2002

DISABILITY-RESEARCH January 2002

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Subject:

Blind teacher wins ADA case

From:

LILITH Finkler <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

LILITH Finkler <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 24 Jan 2002 01:32:07 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (110 lines)

Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2002 14:04:56 -0500
>
>Teacher wins discrimination case in Baltimore
>
>Teacher gains $55,000 settlement;
>     City schools scolded for rescinding offer because of guide dog
>
>     BY: Gail Gibson
>
>The Baltimore Sun
>     January 3, 2002
>
>Graduating with  an education degree  in the spring of  1998, in
>the  midst of widespread  teacher shortages, Janet  C. Mushington
>hardly  had trouble  finding a  job.  Turning down  one offer  in
>Atlanta,  she  took  another  in  her  hometown,  at  Baltimore's
>Westside  Elementary.  Weeks  before  the  school  year  started,
>though,  city school officials changed their minds, court records
>show. The school principal said  Mushington, who is blind,  could
>have the job  - but  only if she  left her  guide dog, Parke,  at
>home.  The rescinded  offer will  cost the city  schools $55,000,
>which the system has agreed to pay Mushington to settle a Justice
>Department  lawsuit charging  violations  of the  Americans  with
>Disabilities Act.  In  a  settlement  order signed  Monday  by  a
>federal judge in Baltimore, the  schools also agreed to adopt new
>policies  to ensure compliance  with the decade-old  civil rights
>law.   Under   the   agreement,  school   officials   denied  any
>discrimination.  But for  Mushington, now  27  and an  elementary
>school  teacher  in  Baltimore  County,  the  settlement  was  an
>important  victory. In  an  interview yesterday,  Mushington said
>that until she  lost the Westside job offer because  of her guide
>dog, she had  always believed she  could overcome her  disability
>with hard work. "In my mind, I always told myself that as long as
>I  did  my best  and  did  what I  was  supposed to  do,  I would
>triumph," said Mushington, who lives in Pikesville. "So when this
>happened, it was more than just I  was turned down for a job - it
>was like  my  whole world  had  come crashing  down."  Yesterday,
>school  officials referred questions  about the case  to attorney
>Brian Williams, who  was out of town and  unavailable to comment.
>
>
>Under the settlement order signed  by U.S. District Judge William
>M. Nickerson, the schools  agreed to designate a  coordinator for
>disability employment  issues and  to require  all employees  who
>make  hiring  decisions  to  undergo  training  about  disability
>issues. The  city schools  also agreed to  post notices  in every
>school  building about  the 1990  anti-discrimination law,  which
>requires  public  and   private  employers  to   make  reasonable
>accommodations for employees with physical  disabilities, such as
>permitting an  employee to use  a guide dog. "The  Americans with
>Disabilities  Act is  intended to  open the  doors of  employment
>opportunity to people with disabilities," Ralph  F. Boyd Jr., the
>assistant  U.S. attorney  general  for civil  rights,  said in  a
>statement. "When  an employer refuses  access by a person  with a
>service   animal,  it  closes  the  door  on  that  opportunity."
>
>
>Mushington received a  bachelor's degree in education  from Clark
>Atlanta  University in Georgia  in June 1998.  She said yesterday
>that  she was  initially interested in  staying in  Atlanta after
>graduation, and had received a  job offer at an elementary school
>there, when her mother talked  her into returning to Baltimore to
>live near her family. Mushington said  she agreed to move home in
>part because she felt she  had proved her independence by leaving
>Maryland  to attend  college,  working  her  way  through  school
>despite her blindness  and, during her junior year,  a broken leg
>that left her using a  wheelchair for several months. That effort
>made the loss of the job offer in Baltimore all the more painful,
>she said. "It was like, wait a  minute," Mushington said. "I went
>through  all this, and  I'm still not  going to be able  to get a
>job?"  Mushington   said  she   interviewed  twice  at   Westside
>Elementary  during the summer of 1998, each  time using a cane to
>help her navigate.  She said it was only when  she mentioned that
>she would  be  using a  guide  dog during  the school  year  that
>officials balked, saying a "no animal" policy prohibited her from
>bringing a dog to the school.  "The bottom line was, if I  wanted
>the job in that school, I would not be able to have the dog," she
>said. Mushington was  not breaking new ground. A  small number of
>blind  teachers across  Maryland take  their guide dogs  into the
>classroom, where the  teachers manage their classrooms  with help
>from  students, classroom aides  and Braille texts,  according to
>the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association
>of  Blind Educators. When  city school officials  said they could
>not  accommodate  Mushington's   service  animal,  she  filed   a
>complaint with  the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC
>investigators referred the case to the Justice Department's civil
>rights  division. While her  case progressed, Mushington  went to
>work. Substitute teaching jobs  and a student helper position  in
>the Baltimore County schools led to a full-time position teaching
>second- and third-graders  at Chatsworth School  in Reisterstown,
>where  guide  dog   Parke  joins  Mushington  every   day.  "It's
>wonderful," Mushington  said.  "She comes  in,  and she  goes  to
>sleep. She stays  under the desk and  sleeps until I tell  her to
>come out and go somewhere."
>


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