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  • Kirstin Kennedy

Pittsburgh school district accused of disability discrimination

For immediate release

PITTSBURGH – A Pennsylvania teacher has accused the Pittsburgh Public School District of failing to accommodate her physical disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


According to a civil complaint filed in the Western District Court of Pennsylvania, Plaintiff Shawnie Miller began working as a sixth and seventh grade Literacy Teacher for the Pittsburgh Public School District in July 2009. Prior to her hiring, according to the complaint, Ms. Miller was diagnosed with Netherton Syndrome, an immunodeficiency disease which causes her skin to break down and makes her highly susceptible to infection. Ms. Miller alleged that her condition is easily exacerbated by things like strenuous activity and changes in climate, as her ability to regulate her own body temperature is compromised. Additionally, according to the complaint, Ms. Miller also was diagnosed with Steven-Johnson’s Syndrome, another condition which causes her skin to deteriorate and makes her highly susceptible to pneumonia, infections, and potential organ failure.

After several years of teaching, in April 2018, Ms. Miller took a medically necessary leave of absence related to her conditions, according to the complaint. She alleged that, at that time, she made a formal request to the school district seeking reasonable accommodation for her conditions – including a climate-controlled environment, limited sun exposure, limited required duty for things like lunch, recess, bus duty, and field trips, and the possibility of quarantining or time off in the event of illness. According to the complaint, in May 2018, the district approved Ms. Miller’s request. Specifically, the letter excused her from “fire drills, escorting students outside, bus duty, cafeteria duty, and field trips,” according to the complaint. Ms. Miller alleged that the district also offered her the opportunity to request further assistance with nonstrenuous, indoor activity.

According to the complaint, despite the approval of her request, Ms. Miller was required to engage in a number of activities specifically listed on the accommodation letter, including: mandatory participation in two fire drills during the 2018-2019 school year, required participation in an “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counteract, Evacuate” or “ALICE” drill, and participation in a field trip. Ms. Miller alleged that she was not notified of the drills ahead of time, and that her participation in the listed activities should have been excused.

Additionally, Ms. Miller believed that the district retaliated against her based on her need for accommodation. According to the complaint, she was placed with thirty-three percent more students in her class than in the class of the only other seventh grade English Teacher at the school, and her class consisted of roughly six times the number of children with learning disabilities. Further, according to the complaint, her classroom had roughly four times the number of children from impoverished families in her classes and twice the number of children with past attendance issues. Ms. Miller alleged that none of her students were in the gifted program despite the fact that there were twenty-three gifted students in the classroom of the other seventh grade English Teacher.

According to the complaint, the district consistently failed to process Ms. Miller’s “return to work” notes that she provided when she needed to take intermittent leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. While her union contract required that employees be permitted to return to work within one day of submitting such doctor’s clearance, Ms. Miller was forced to wait up to a week on multiple occasions, according to the complaint. This caused to her exhaust more FMLA time and reduce her salary, she alleged. Further, according to the complaint, she was told repeatedly that her FMLA paperwork was either lost, or she was accused of not turning it in, which often resulted in her having to take sick days rather than medical leave granted to her by the law.

The complaint alleged discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as FMLA Interference, and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Ms. Miller filed a complaint through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was provided a right to sue.

Ruppert Manes Narahari is a Pittsburgh-based employment law firm representing workers who have been wrongfully terminated, harassed, or cheated by their employers. The firm also provides business law-related services and represents small businesses and entrepreneurs in startup, transactional, and litigation matters.

For more information on the claims made by Ms. Miller against the Pittsburgh Public School District, contact the law office of Ruppert Manes Narahari at 412-626-5626.

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