Suit: Chemistry teacher fired after classroom break-in triggers PTSD

By Jim Boyle | Sep 12, 2014

A former science teacher at the Valley Forge Military Academy says that his former

employers refused to accommodate him after a break-in into his classroom triggered post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, according to an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Daniel DiMarcella, of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., says that the headmaster and human resources director ordered his termination because of his requests for reasonable accommodations, including work time flexibility and getting excused from moderating study hall.  The firing followed months of e-mails and meetings with the management, where the plaintiff says he was ridiculed for his symptoms.

According to the complaint, three cadets broke into DiMarcella's chemistry classroom in May 2013. The plaintiff says the incident triggered PTSD and anxiety symptoms acquired during an incident at his previous employer, when a student stabbed DiMarcella. According to the complaint, the PTSD also caused his diagnosed fibromyalgia to flare-up, making it difficult for DiMarcella to walk.

He sent an e-mail to Headmaster Jeff Brown about his disabilities and asked for help and understanding, but did not hear back until July, when DiMarcella was informed that he had been demoted from chemistry teacher and reassigned to teach five different science disciplines.

More e-mail exchanges followed between Brown and DiMarcella, where the plaintiff said that the added stress of the demotion and re-assignment exacerbated his PTSD symptoms. DiMarcella made his official request for accommodations in August 2013, and Brown said he would forward them to Human Resources Director Marianne Meade.

A few days later, DiMarcella filled out a Medical Inquiry Form to Support Reasonable Accommodations from the Department of Labor and submitted it to human resources. According to the complaint, at a Sept. 17, 2013 meeting, Meade told the plaintiff he needed to fill out a Family and Medical Leave Act form, instead.

DiMarcella objected to the request, saying he was not seeking time off or a leave of absence, and that he could perform his duties with the reasonable ADA accommodations. More e-mails were exchanged, with the language becoming more hostile as DiMarcella continued to refuse to complete the FMLA form, the suit says. At a November meeting with Brown and Meade, DiMarcella sked to leave early because their aggressive questioning caused his PTSD to get worse.

After walking out of another meeting the next day for the same reasons, DiMarcella was suspended without pay for insubordinate behavior. Meade and Brown scheduled another meeting for Nov. 15, 2013, but the plaintiff could not attend because of a dentist appointment, the suit says. Finally, on Nov. 25, 2013, DiMarcella was terminated from his employment.

DiMarcella believes he was terminated because of his record of impairment, known health problems, requests for accommodations and complaints of disability discrimination. He seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits and punitive damages that would effectively punish the defendants for allegedly outrageous conduct.

The plaintiff is represented by Ari Karpf of Karpf, Karpf and Cerutti.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-05189-LDD.

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