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Teacher entitled to workers comp benefits for school-related stress: Court


A second-grade teacher should receive limited workers compensation benefits for health problems she says she suffered while working in a stressful classroom, a Pennsylvania court has ruled.

Shirley Hilton worked for the Philadelphia school district from November 2008 to March 2009. On her last day at Frances D. Pastorius Elementary School, she suffered heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness and nausea “as a result of a particularly difficult day with her challenging classroom,” according to the ruling.

Ms. Hilton went that afternoon to a regularly scheduled appointment with a doctor who had treated her for some time. The doctor's office called Ms. Hilton's school that day and told school officials that she would not be returning to work because of the school's “overly stressful environment,” court records show.

A doctor appointed by the school district treated Ms. Hilton and “made her return” to her regular job at Pastorius school in May 2009, but she worked only four days upon her return, and was not paid beyond the March date that she left the school, according to the ruling.

In June 2009, the Philadelphia school district reassigned Ms. Hilton to Jay Cooke Elementary School, which she characterized as being quiet with “excellent teaching ... going on,” records show. However, Ms. Hilton did not begin work that September because she said she was still undergoing treatment for job-related stress she suffered at her previous elementary school.

Ms. Hilton filed a workers comp claim for work injuries she suffered in March 2009, including vocal cord injury, aggravation of pre-existing lupus and heart murmur, court records show.


A workers comp judge granted Ms. Hilton's petition after finding her testimony was credible in describing “serious behavioral problems” at Pastorius that caused her injuries, records show.

The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the benefit award, and the Philadelphia school district appealed.

A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed Ms. Hilton's benefit award on Tuesday, but reversed a portion of the appeals board decision that would have allowed her to receive ongoing benefits.

The appellate court found that testimony from Ms. Hilton's physician credibly established that she suffered injuries from working at Pastorius school, including exacerbating her pre-existing lupus in March 2009.

However, the doctor testified that Ms. Hilton was not disabled from working as a teacher “as long as she did not work somewhere like Pastorius school,” records show. Therefore, the appellate court granted benefits to Ms. Hilton only from March 2009 to September 2009, when she could have begun working at the less stressful Cooke school.