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School Board Properly Terminated Teacher Who Failed Two Fitness Exams and Who Requested Hiring Part-Time Aide

By on March 18, 2016 in ADA with 0 Comments

Reasonable accommodation has its limits as is noted in the case of Belasco v. Warrensville Heights City School District, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 21493 (6th Cir. 2015).  Norma Belasco, a long-time teacher, began to have serious health issues in 2007, starting with renal failure with an eventual kidney transplant in 2013.  She also had heart surgery in 2010 and suffered from shortness of breath, balance problems and fatigue, sometimes requiring the use of a walker.

Over time her class became more and more uncontrolled with students fighting frequently and the Principal having to intervene fairly regularly.  The school security guard testified in a deposition that she had to respond to Belasco’s classroom four or five times a day.  Students would be out of their seats, playing loud music, and sometimes laying on the floor.  One student would occasionally draw lesson plans for other students to work on.

Belasco conceded in a deposition that she needed assistance but maintained that the assistance she needed was related to her disabilities:

Q. So when you requested assistance, you were requesting assistance to deal with their behaviors, not assistance to perform your duties as a result of the limitations that you experienced?

A. Well, they were related, obviously.

Q. How were they related?

A. As I said, my balance and things like that were not perfect, so I was a little afraid that the children would hurt each other, but also could knock me down, which has happened with teachers.

The School District was also concerned that Belasco was not implementing a program called “Action 100,” which was a Reading Challenge program.  Belasco was entering false data into the database, claiming she was instructed to do so.  She was absent from work frequently, missing 26 days in one semester, and was frequently late for school.

The School District arranged a fitness-for-duty examination which Belasco failed to pass.  She challenged the results of the fitness exam and set up her own examination, which she also failed.  Both fitness exams noted that Belasco could not ensure safety of students because that required quick reactions on the part of the teacher.  Belasco had poor balance and shortness of breath with minimal tasks.  Following these examinations, the District conducted a hearing in which Belasco requested the assignment to her of a teaching aide and the use of a walker.

The District refused to hire a teaching aide but did agree to allow the use of a walker if Belasco’s doctor could certify that using the walker would enable Belasco to perform the essential functions of her job.  After further hearings, the District terminated Belasco’s employment.  Belasco sued alleging that she was discriminated against based on her disabilities.

The federal court found in favor of the District, and Belasco appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  The Court found that Belasco failed to show that she could safely perform the essential functions of her job, even if she was disabled.  The Court added that “Belasco does not explain why her failure to pass the relevant aspects of the fitness-for-duty tests cannot independently support the examiners’ conclusions that she was unable to perform essential functions of her job – namely, supervising students, ensuring their safety, and responding in emergencies.”

With regard to her requests for reasonable accommodations, the Court said that Belasco failed to produce a medical certification explaining how the use of a walker would allow her to perform the essential functions of her job.  Further, the Court said that the ADA does not require an employer to hire another person to help someone with a disability perform the essential job functions.  In this case the union collective bargaining agreement prohibited hiring part-time educational aides without the express consent of both the prospective aide and the union.  The union refused to provide its consent. Lastly, the Court said that Belasco’s request to shift unruly students to another classroom was unreasonable because the District should not have to reassign essential job functions to another employee.

The case illustrates a number of important principles: first, that requests for accommodations must be linked to helping the employee perform the essential job functions. Moreover, certain requests for accommodation are unreasonable on their face, particularly those requests that would require other employees to do part of the disabled employee’s job.

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John H. Geaney

About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, an executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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