WOMAN WITH NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER LOSES ADA CASE

by Art Gutman Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

The case is Insalaco v. Anne Arundel County Public Schools, decided by District Court of Maryland on 1/26/12. (see 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9110). Jennifer Insalaco, a special education teacher, lost on summary judgment on her claims that the school failed to provide reasonable accommodation, that she experienced harassment and retaliation, and that she was terminated because of her disability. Generally, an ADA plaintiff faces three prongs: (1) a physical or mental impairment that (2) substantially limits a major life activity, and (3) that the plaintiff can perform the essential functions of the job either with or without reasonable accommodation. Insalaco easily passed the first two prongs (her disorder substantially interfered with her ability to walk), but failed on the third prong. Normally, I would not comment on this type of ruling; ADA summary judgments against plaintiffs are hardly a novelty. However, this case has a very important message with respect to reasonable accommodation.

The facts of the case were that in October 2007, Insalaco fainted at work and was taken to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with the neurological impairment and was advised to use a walker at work. At a later point, the school offered her a temporary position at another school, which Insalaco rejected because it was a longer driving distance from her home. The plaintiff returned to work following a “loosening” of her medical restrictions, and in January 2008, she left work in the middle of the day because of “tensions between her and her colleagues.” She was then placed on administrative leave pending a fitness for duty evaluation (which was never completed), and was notified in April 2008 that her contract would not be renewed for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The key to the reasonable accommodation ruling is that Insalaco denied, when asked, that she required a reasonable accommodation, and that her attorney told the school that she was "able to perform the essential duties and functions of her job with or without an accommodation." Judge James K. Bredar ruled that it is not necessary to actually request an accommodation, but in this case, her actual denial of such a need defeats the failure to reasonably accommodate claim.

On the harassment claim, Judge Bredar ruled that Insalaco could not prove that the tensions between her and her colleagues was unrelated to her disability, and even if they were, it was not "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter a terms, condition, or privilege of employment", that there were “ no incidents of physical threats or humiliation directed against her”, and that she has not demonstrated that any of the conduct at issue has affected her work performance”.

On the other two issues, that although the failure to renew the contract occurred after Insalaco made a formal charge to the EEOC (she also made one afterwards), the evidence indicated that she was terminated for performance reasons.

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