On September 28th 2016, Rosa Martinez (formerly a school nurse in the New Brunswick New Jersey school district) was awarded $2 million as settlement in an employment disability discrimination lawsuit involving the New Brunswick Board of Education.
During trial testimony before Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Douglas K. Wolfson, the school board agreed to settle the case, which alleged discrimination, harassment and failure to reasonably accommodate her situation, in which she said a visual disability made it difficult to work on a computer. The visual demands were exacerbated when the school district went to electronic medical records in 2009.
I am quite familiar with this case as I served as an expert witness for the plaintiff, Rosa Martinez. What is remarkable and perhaps precedent setting was the visual disability in question was a severe case of convergence insufficiency (as well as dry eye syndrome). Rosa attempted to have the condition treated with vision therapy, but was unable to complete treatment when her health insurance would not pay for vision therapy. She attempted spectacles with prism to treat her convergence problem but these were ineffective in allowing her to do her computer work.
Also of great interest is that several optometrists and ophthalmologists were initially consulted by Rosa and they all recommended basic workplace accommodations in addition to other treatment. These accommodations ranged from allowing more time to complete the increased load of data entry, to having a lower level person do some of the data entry, to talk to text software to reduce the quantity of computer data entry. None of these accommodations were implemented (indeed there were allegations of frank harassment instead). Rosa felt compelled to leave this job she loved, and later sued the school district.
There are several important lessons for us to learn here:
- Convergence insufficiency can be legally considered to be a serious visual disability.
- Workplace accommodations are just as important (and legally protected) as school accommodations are for a student.
It is unfortunate and ironic that a school district which is presumably quite familiar with student accommodations was found to not provide the same for one of their employees.