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Cole v. Kenosha Unified School District Board of Education

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 11, 2016

JAMIE COLE, Plaintiff,
v.
KENOSHA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

ORDER

J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

In this action, the plaintiff, Jamie Cole (“Cole”), claims that the Kenosha Unified School District Board of Education (“the District”) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), and Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (“Rehabilitation Act”).[1] (Docket #1). Specifically, Cole claims that the District unlawfully discriminated against her by failing to: (1) reasonably accommodate her disabilities (diabetes and major depression); and (2) engage in a constructive, interactive process to solve her long-term workplace issues. (Docket #1, #36; Cole II Docket #1). Cole also claims that the District retaliated against her for requesting accommodations and filing complaints to the EEOC about this allegedly discriminatory conduct. (Docket #1, #36; Cole II Docket #1).

Before the Court is the District’s motion for summary judgment.[2](Docket #25). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the District moves for judgment as a matter of law with respect to all of Cole’s claims. (Docket #25). That motion is now ripe for adjudication. (Docket #27, #36, #40).

For the reasons described herein, the Court concludes that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude the grant of summary judgment for the District; thus, the District’s motion will be denied in its entirety (Docket #25).

1.BACKGROUND[3]

1.1The Parties

Cole began working for the District in 2006 teaching special education at Bradford High School. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 1). Since that time, however, Cole has held both regular education and special education positions at various schools within the District, including Bradford High School, Indian Trail High School and Academy (“ITHSA”), Tremper High School, and Lincoln Middle School. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶¶ 2-4; Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶¶ 1-4). Cole has Type 1 diabetes, which she has been controlling since 2003, and major depression, which was diagnosed in 2010. (Docket #36, Ex. 3 ¶¶ 10-11).

The District encompasses the City of Kenosha, the Village of Pleasant Prairie, and the Town of Somers and is comprised of 23 elementary schools, 5 middle schools, 5 high schools, 5 charter schools, and 1 Head Start Child Development Center. (Docket #26 ¶ 2). It employs more than 1600 teachers among more than 2300 full-time equivalent employees. (Docket #26 ¶¶ 3-4).

1.2 Facts

The relevant time frame for this action is the 2012/2013 school year and the 2013/2014 school year. (Docket #1; Cole II Docket #1). However, because certain events from the 2011/2012 school year provide context for understanding the issues at play in this case, the Court will briefly address the relevant facts from that time period as well.

Cole transferred to Tremper High School to teach social studies for the 2011/2012 school year. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 4). However, prior to the beginning of school, Cole realized that, as a non-air-conditioned school, Tremper High School was too hot for her diabetes. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 5). Therefore, Cole submitted an accommodation request to the District seeking a transfer or reassignment to a “regular education [position] at an air-conditioned building” and “to be a stationary teacher.” (Docket #39 ¶ 6). To support this request, Cole submitted a letter from her doctor that stated that she needed an “entire work environment to be adequately cool and ventilated and will require transfer if this cannot be accommodated.” (Docket #39 ¶ 6). The District responded by transferring Cole to Lincoln Middle School to teach social studies. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 7). Cole did not have to “compete” for that reassignment. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 8).

In light of certain layoffs projected for the 2012/2013 school year, Cole participated in the District’s “Arena” scheduling process in order to be placed into her 2012/2013 school year position. (Docket #26 ¶ 27). Due to Cole’s seniority and credentials, the only remaining jobs from which she could chose from within the Arena process for that year were special education positions. (Docket #26 ¶¶ 28-29). In light of these options, Cole began working at ITHSA-a building that has air conditioning-as a special education teacher for the 2012/2013 school year. (Docket #26 ¶¶ 30-32).

Shortly thereafter, in September of 2012, Cole met with Principal Dr. Beth Ormseth (“Dr. Ormseth”) to discuss Cole’s disability accommodations. (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 11). Among other things, Cole and Dr. Ormseth discussed: (1) transferring Cole out of special education due to stress; (2) moving Cole’s office; (3) allowing Cole to use a refrigerator for insulin; and (4) consolidating Cole’s classes onto a single level within the building. (Docket #37, Ex. 12). However, as there were no regular education positions currently open at ITHSA, Dr. Ormseth stated that Cole’s request for reassignment out of special education “would be deferred to [human resources].” (Docket #36, Ex. 2 ¶ 12). Other than the transfer request, Cole admits that at this time Dr. Ormseth worked with to Cole to try and accomplish each requested accommodation. (Docket #26 ¶¶ 38-46).

Approximately two months later, however, Cole met with the District’s Executive Director of Business Services Sheronda Glass (“Glass”), Dr. Ormseth, and Union Representative Juan Jimenez (“Jimenez”) to discuss Cole’s oustanding accommodation needs, which included having her classes arranged on the same floor, changing her Local Education Agency (“LEA”) Representative, and transferring Cole to a regular education position. (Docket #26 ¶ 46). During that meeting, Glass again explained that there were no regular education positions available and that Cole’s schedule could not be modified to confine her classes to a single room or floor based on students’ needs and the effect on other teachers. (Docket #26 ¶ 48). Dr. Ormseth ...


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