The Toolbox is a one day workshop focusing on special education discipline. We like to highlight the Toolbox on Tuesdays, and today we’re doing it in an unusual way. Let’s talk about a personnel dispute.
Paul Green was a monitor on a special education bus for the Dallas County Schools. After he was fired, he sued DCS, alleging disability discrimination. The jury agreed with him. When attorneys’ fees were added to the damages awarded by the jury, Mr. Green had a favorable judgment in excess of $500,000. But all of that got taken away by the appellate court due to the manifestation determination.
Now I know that the readers of EdLawDaily are a particularly sharp bunch of people. Therefore, you have to wonder about the last sentence of the preceding paragraph. Since when does a “manifestation determination” come up in an employment case?
Well….it doesn’t. But the way this case was decided is a good illustration of how a manifestation determination is supposed to work.
So let us review the embarrassing details of this case. Mr. Green peed in his pants on the school bus. He felt it coming on, and begged the driver to stop at a gas station. The driver did not do so, and Mr. Green could not hold it any longer. No students were on the bus when this happened, but a wheelchair bound student boarded the bus shortly thereafter. Mr. Green assisted the student, securing the wheelchair with straps without touching the student.
The incident was reported to supervisors and both Mr. Green and the driver were disciplined. The driver was suspended without pay for one day. Mr. Green was fired.
Mr. Green had congestive heart failure, for which he took medication. He had informed his supervisors of this. There were previous incidents when he had a sudden urge to urinate, and bus drivers had accommodated this by making unscheduled stops, without incident. So Mr. Green’s legal theory was that he urinated on himself due to his disability and/or the meds that he took for it. DCS argued that neither his disability, nor his meds had anything to do with it. DCS claimed it was all about his handling of the student after the incident without first washing up.
So: do you see that this is a manifestation determination case? The jury was asked if the urination episode was caused by the disability. The jury said yes. The appellate court answered the same question with a “no.” In fact, the court said that the evidence in the case was too weak to support the jury’s conclusion.
Three experts—medical doctors--testified in the trial. Two of them were hired by DCS, and they both testified that neither congestive heart failure, nor the medication that Mr. Green was taking would have caused a sudden loss of bladder control. Of course Mr. Green had his own medical doctor as an expert witness, but the court deemed that doctor’s testimony “speculative” and “conclusory.” The court noted that the doctor “could not, and did not say that [the medication] caused or contributed to Green’s incontinence episode.”
In other words: this incident was not “caused by,” nor did it have a “direct and substantial relationship” to Mr. Green’s disability. Therefore, he was not fired because of his disability. There goes the half a million.
The case of Dallas County Schools v. Green was decided by the Court of Appeals, 5th District: Dallas, on January 19, 2016.
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DAWG BONE: MANIFESTATION DETERMINATIONS LOOK AT DIRECT CAUSATION.