Jon Campisi May 21, 2013, 7:02am

A former school police officer is suing the School District of Philadelphia over allegations that his employment was terminated in retaliation for his requesting special accommodations relating to his cancer.

Robert A. Garner, who resides in Philadelphia, is seeking more than $300,000 in damages from the district arising out of his alleged wrongful termination, which the plaintiff claims was due to his requesting “reasonable” accommodations because of his medical conditions.

Garner, who was first hired as a security officer for the district back in January 1990, and later became a full-time school police officer, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant, suffers from follicular lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

The plaintiff claims that the defendant failed to provide him with reasonable accommodations for his disability, failed to engage him in a “good faith interactive process” as required by federal law in order to address his needs for special accommodations, and denied Garner the use of his earned sick leave benefits because of his disability.

Instead, the lawsuit claims, the school district retaliated against Garner by subjecting him to unwarranted discipline, unpaid leave of absence, and subsequent termination because he “continued to assert his rights for reasonable accommodation under these statutes because of his disability.”

The complaint, which was filed May 20 at the federal court in Philadelphia by city-based lawyer Olugbenga O. Abiona, says that Garner had taken an approved medical leave of absence from May through November 2011, after which the plaintiff was placed on an unapproved medical leave of absence without pay, despite the fact that his doctors provided the school district with medical records and certification of Garner’s disabilities and requested that the district provide the man with reasonable accommodations.

Garner was ultimately denied the accommodations, the suit claims, and instead was placed on a one-year probation in December 2011.

Then, from March through June of this year, Garner was placed on a “discriminatory and retaliatory unapproved medical leave,” the complaint alleges, despite the fact that the plaintiff’s doctors again reiterated their patient’s need for special accommodations due to his illness.

Garner’s union representatives requested that the school district conduct an independent medical examination of Garner’s medical condition, something required under the collective bargaining agreement, but the district refused the request, the lawsuit says.

On June 6, a school district human resource official informed Garner that his termination was being recommended to the School Reform Commission.

The suit claims that the district’s actions constituted violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

In addition to the $300,000 in damages, Garner also seeks front and back pay, lost income and benefits, pre-and-post-judgment interest, litigation costs and both attorney’s and expert witness fees.

Garner is also seeking a jury trial.

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-02756-RK. 

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