Former Pa. School for the Deaf teacher accuses institution of ADA violations

By Jon Campisi | Aug 1, 2013

The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf has been named as a defendant in a civil suit accusing the Philadelphia-based educational institution of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for allegedly firing a former teacher because she requested special accommodations due to her medical conditions.

Joanne Webb-Barnum, of Sicklerville, N.J., filed suit against the school on July 31 in federal court in Philadelphia.

The woman, who was first hired by the defendant in the summer of 2006 as a teacher, alleges she was terminated last July after going out on medical leave less than six months earlier for treatment of her disabilities.

The plaintiff reportedly suffers from bi-polar and attention deficit disorders along with depression.

The lawsuit says that at various times during the course of her employment, Webb-Barnum requested, and was given, reasonable accommodation from the school for her disabilities, but that things changed shortly after she began working as a pre-kindergarten instructor.

At that time, in the fall of 2011, several of Webb-Barnum’s students exhibited severe behavioral difficulties that required functional behavior plans, something that led to the plaintiff requesting that the defendant provide support and training to her to help her deal with those particular students.

The school, however, not only failed to provide the plaintiff with the requested support and training, but it also failed to have in place adequate staff or procedures for dealing with students who have functional behavior difficulties, the complaint states.

“Instead of dealing with its deficiencies and inability to provide adequate resources for the education and discipline of the students referenced above, Defendant began to blame Plaintiff for problems regarding the students and claimed she had poor performance issues,” the lawsuit reads.

The environment at work began to exacerbate Webb-Barnum’s disabilities, the suit claims, and caused her to meet with a human resources representative.

In early 2012, the plaintiff put in her request for “reasonable accommodation,” which included seeking intensive supervision in the classroom, meeting reminders and written notes of observations and help with deadlines, the lawsuit states.

At first the plaintiff was assured that her requests were reasonable and would be complied with, but the woman was soon told she was being removed from her teaching position and reassigned as a teacher’s assistant.

Webb-Barnum was also informed that her teaching contract would not be renewed the following school year, the complaint states.

Previously, however, the plaintiff was told her teaching performance had been improving.

“Plaintiff’s condition deteriorated and her disabilities were exacerbated after she was told of her demotion and the non-renewal of her contract, and she was not able to continue working,” the complaint states.

Webb-Barnum was hospitalized on Feb. 17, 2012, and never returned to work upon taking medical leave.

On July 7 of that year she was told her employment was being terminated.

The lawsuit accuses the defendant of violating both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Webb-Barnum seeks declaratory judgment, reinstatement to her teaching position, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

The plaintiff is being represented by Birchrunville, Pa. attorney Mark S. Scheffer.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-04418-ER. 

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