Yesterday we told you about the custodian with autism who was terminated from his job in Northeast ISD. The court ruled against him on his disability discrimination claim because he could not identify a non-disabled employee who had engaged in similar behavior. No other custodian had ever pushed a coworker to the ground.
The second claim in the custodian’s lawsuit was that the district failed to accommodate his disability. After all, the district knew that he had autism which impaired his ability to navigate difficult social situations. So when he was confronted by his coworkers, two high ranking administrators, and a police officer, shouldn’t the district have made sure that the custodian’s parents were there as well?
Actually, his father was there, but by the time he got there, it was pretty much too late. The custodian had already made the crucial admission that he had pushed his coworker and she fell.
Doesn’t the law require school districts to “reasonably accommodate” workers who have disabilities? Yes, it does. But this is an area where the law treats the adult with a disability very different from the child with a disability. The adult bears more responsibility. In this case the court cited a 5th Circuit decision for this proposition:
If the employee fails to request an accommodation, the employer cannot be held liable for failing to provide one. Taylor v. Principal Financial Group, Inc., 93 F.3d 155 (5th Cir. 1996).
The court noted that the custodian had worked for the district for over three years and had never requested an accommodation to deal with his communication with his supervisors. He may have lost this case in any event, but the autistic custodian would have been in a stronger position if he had specifically requested that the district contact his parents prior to questioning him about possible wrongdoing.
Do you see the implications for transition plans that we write for students with IEPs or 504 plans? When those students leave the protective cocoon of K-12 schools they face a very different situation. Whether they are in the workforce, or another level of education, they have to know how to 1) go to the right people; 2) identify themselves as having a disability; 3) provide any necessary documentation; and 4) request reasonable accommodation.
Self-advocacy. It should be included in every student’s transition plan.
This one is Goodlett v. Northeast ISD, decided by the Court of Appeals in San Antonio on May 26, 2021. We found it at 2021 WL 2117927.
DAWG BONE: DEVELOPING THE SKILL OF SELF-ADVOCACY SHOULD BE A PART OF EVERY TRANSITION PLAN.
Got a question or comment for the Dawg? Let me hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.