Professor With Voice Disorder Says Accommodation Was Yanked

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By Patrick Dorrian

A Maryland community college illegally stopped accommodating a professor’s inability to speak for long periods and later terminated her, a federal lawsuit alleges ( Shedrick v. Prince George’s Cmty. Coll. , D. Md., No. 8:16-cv-04127, complaint filed 12/29/16 ).

Lestine Shedrick says Prince George’s Community College had accommodated her voice disorder for multiple semesters by waiving a requirement that all full-time professors teach in person at least one 15-week class per semester. She instead was permitted to teach additional online classes from her home in California, Shedrick says in a complaint filed Dec. 29 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

The college, however, told Shedrick in August 2015 that she was demoted to adjunct professor status because she couldn’t satisfy the face-to-face teaching requirement for full-time faculty. After she taught one more semester as an adjunct professor, the school didn’t invite her back for the following semester, effectively terminating her, Shedrick claims.

Remote or at-home work arrangements generally are considered reasonable accommodations and thus required under federal disabilities discrimination law. Employers typically aren’t required to allow such an arrangement, however, where doing so would relieve an employee of performing an essential job function.

Taught Psychology

Shedrick says she was hired as an adjunct professor in the college’s psychology department in March 2010. She met the school’s requirement that she make three in-person appearances per class per semester and otherwise taught her classes online, according to the complaint.

She was offered full-time professor status beginning in the college’s fall 2014 semester and her department chair granted her request for an accommodation for her voice disorder, a form of dysphonia, Shedrick says. The disorder left her unable to speak for more than 30 minutes at a time. The accommodation allowed her to teach two additional online courses in lieu of meeting the 15-week in-person teaching requirement for full professors, she says.

When the chair passed away, his successor continued Shedrick’s accommodation for the school’s spring 2015 semester. At the end of that semester, however, the new chair informed Shedrick that she would need to comply with the 15-week in-person teaching requirement starting in the fall 2015 semester.

Shedrick reminded the chair of her need for accommodation and offered to provide the school with any necessary medical documentation to support her request. The chair never responded and Shedrick was later told while teaching a summer course online that she would have to revert to adjunct professor status.

The withdrawal of her accommodation and her subsequent termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and Maryland state law, Shedrick asserts in her complaint. She seeks reinstatement to full-time professor status with the college, along with back pay, lost benefits, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

The college was closed for winter break and no one was available Dec. 30 to comment on Shedrick’s claims.

Morris E. Fischer LLC represents Shedrick. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for the college.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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