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Court reversal supports terminated teacher’s ADA charge

Court reversal supports terminated teacher’s ADA charge

A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court and reinstated an Americans with Disabilities Act charge filed by a terminated teacher against the San Diego Roman Catholic Archdiocese, ruling there is evidence to support her claim she was fired because the archdiocese regarded her as disabled.

Michelle Baker’s contract was not renewed in 2013 after she had worked as a teacher for 13 years at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Michelle Baker vs. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Diego et al.

In August 2012, Ms. Baker sustained a concussion after a fall at work and later suffered symptoms including dizziness, instability, loss of balance, double vision and migraine headaches. She repeatedly notified her principal of her problems, according to court papers.

At her termination, Ms. Baker, 67, was told that various categories of her work performance and behavior were “areas for growth,” according to the court papers.

After her termination, she filed suit in U.S. District Court in Pasadena, California, charging disparate treatment under the ADA. 

The District Court granted the archdiocese summary judgment dismissing the case, which was overturned by a unanimous three-judge panel.

The ADA Amendment Act of 2008 “clarified that employers need not regard someone as being substantially limited in any major life activity to regard them as disabled,” said the ruling.

Here, there is evidence the school’s principal knew Ms. Baker had suffered a concussion; that she continued to suffer from dizziness and headaches afterwards; was concerned about her health immediately after the concussion; and asked about her health when he saw her from time to time, said the ruling.

In addition, having headaches and dizziness for months following a concussion could be interpreted by an employer as an impairment, said the ruling.

“Baker presented sufficient evidence that, if believed, would both establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment and raise a triable issue as to whether (the archdiocese’s) neutral reasons were pretextual,” said the ruling.

She produced evidence that she had received mixed performance reviews for 12 years, without any warning the archdiocese would not renew her contract absent improvement, it said.  In addition, the archdiocese did not have documentation of any student, parent or teacher complaints.

“Combined with other inferences that a jury might draw from Baker’s 2013 performance evaluation – particularly from (the principal’s) conflicting reasons for the timing of the evaluation, the lack of dates and times on the evaluation; and the fact that this was, apparently, the first evaluation of Baker done by a principal rather than an assistant administrator – the evidence was sufficient to raise a triable issue of pretext,” said the ruling in remanding the case for further proceedings.






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