A paraprofessional filed a lawsuit against her school district after her employment was terminated, alleging that the district had failed to accommodate her disability and discriminated against her in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The paraprofessional produced evidence to show that she had been assigned to work with special education students at a middle school. Her job duties required her presence in multiple locations in the building throughout the day, performing tasks such as escorting students to the classroom, bathroom and cafeteria. She also performed lunch and bus duty and served as a hall monitor between classes.

One day, she slipped and fell in the hallway at school. She was diagnosed with a sprained back and was required to use a cane. She had difficulty walking up and down the stairs at school and began experiencing persistent pain in her back, neck and legs. She requested an accommodation for her injuries, specifically that her responsibilities be modified so that she would not have to climb stairs as frequently. She also asked to be excused from lunch and bus duties.

The district initially agreed, but gradually began asking her to perform her normal duties. One day during administration of a standardized test, she was required to go home due to pain she experienced after packing and transporting the test documents and then standing and walking around during the test. She remained on leave through the end of the semester and was terminated at the end of the school year.

A district court found that the school district had not violated the law when it terminated the paraprofessional’s employment, and the court of appeals agreed. An employer’s obligation under the Americans With Disabilities Act is that it must provide a “reasonable accommodation” when an employee has a disability. In this case, the court found that no reasonable accommodation was available, because the school would have had to relieve her of her essential job functions, such as escorting students and performing lunch and bus duty, and assign them to someone else in order to accommodate her requests. An employee with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of her job.  

The court also found that the paraprofessional's employment had not been terminated as a result of her disability. The evidence produced showed her position had been eliminated due to dropping enrollment and that no one had been hired to replace her. There also was evidence that positions had been cut at other schools. These reasons were not related to her disability and formed a non-discriminatory basis for the termination of her employment.