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Huff v. Quakertown Community School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 12, 2017

MICHAEL HUFF, Plaintiff
v.
QUAKERTOWN COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, C. J.

         This action arises under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, as amended, 43 P.S. § 951, et seq. The ADA provides a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

         Defendant Quakertown Community School District has filed a motion to dismiss the second amended complaint, and Plaintiff Michael Huff has responded. For the following reasons, I will deny the defendant's motion in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         The second amended complaint alleges the following: Mr. Huff began working for the defendant in 2005 as an instructional support, regular education teacher at Quakertown High School. In February of the 2005-2006 school year, the plaintiff was offered and accepted an administrative position as a special education supervisor for the school district.

         Due to the nature of working in a special education environment, the plaintiff suffered an anxiety attack and was hospitalized. The plaintiff subsequently has received regular mental health treatment for his anxiety.

         Following his anxiety attack, the plaintiff met with Dr. James Newcomer, who was the defendant's assistant superintendent at the time. Following their meeting, the plaintiff requested a transfer out of special education in order to accommodate his anxiety. Within a week of the plaintiff's request, the plaintiff was transferred back to his original position of instructional support, regular education teacher at Quakertown High School. It is not contested by the parties that the plaintiff was, at all relevant times, disabled within the meaning of the ADA and the PHRA.

         During the 2008-2009 school year, the plaintiff worked as a regular education/cyber education teacher at Quakertown High School. The following year, the plaintiff worked as a regular education/cyber education teacher at Strayer Middle School.

         In March 2011, Cindy Lipinski, who was the principal at Strayer Middle School, asked the plaintiff if he was interested in teaching special education at the Middle School for the upcoming school year, 2011-2012. The plaintiff notified Ms. Lipinski of his anxiety condition and stated he would not be able to handle the mental rigors and unique stress of teaching special education. Despite the notification of his disability and his request not to be placed in a special education position, Ms. Lipinski notified the plaintiff in March 2011 that he would be placed in a special education teaching position at Strayer Middle School for the following school year.

         During the 2011-2012 school year, the plaintiff was placed on a “performance improvement plan.” The plaintiff's supervisors regularly visited his classroom without warning to observe the plaintiff's classroom. Other special education teachers without disabilities and/or who had not requested accommodations for a disability were not subjected to the same treatment. At the end of that school year, the plaintiff requested that the defendant accommodate his disability by transferring him out of the special education position and placing him back into a regular teaching position because the position in special education was exacerbating his anxiety. The defendant denied the plaintiff's request. Ms. Lipinski told the plaintiff that due to the district's policy, individuals on performance improvement plans could not be transferred.

         The plaintiff remained in the special education position and his anxiety worsened. Because of his worsening anxiety, the plaintiff utilized a paid sick leave sabbatical for the 2013-2014 school year.

         Upon his return from sabbatical in August 2014, the plaintiff requested the defendant accommodate him by transferring him from special education to a regular education position. The plaintiff's treating physician had placed restrictions on the plaintiff due to his worsened anxiety and only cleared him to return with part-time hours if he was to remain in a special education position. The plaintiff was also able to return in a full-time non-special education position, which was available and for which the plaintiff was qualified. Although the plaintiff had been on sabbatical and not working during the 2013-2014 school year, the defendant denied the plaintiff's request, telling the plaintiff that it was the district's policy not to transfer an individual who was on a performance improvement plan. The defendant instead offered the plaintiff a part-time position in a special education setting.

         Although he did not consider the part-time special education teacher position to be a reasonable accommodation because it required a significant salary decrease from a full time position, the plaintiff accepted the position for the 2014-2015 school year. This position was the only offer made to the plaintiff by the defendant.

         The plaintiff remained on a performance improvement plan during the 2014-2015 school year. The plaintiff's supervisors regularly came without warning to observe his classroom, despite not subjecting other special education teachers without ...


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