Hamilton Crossing Elementary employee claims system violated Americans with Disabilities Act
A former employee has filed a lawsuit against the Bartow County School System, claiming that her previous employer violated the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act.
Legal counsel for plaintiff Jessica Ingram filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Rome earlier this year. Documents obtained by The Daily Tribune News via an open records request indicate Bartow County Schools was notified of the civil action on April 13.
The complaint indicates that Ingram was notified that her contract would not be renewed while she was on approved Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave in late 2018.
The suit lists two claims for relief — one count of alleged ADA discrimination and one count of alleged “FMLA retaliation.”
According to the lawsuit, Ingram — who had worked at Hamilton Crossing Elementary School since 2005 — went on FMLA leave on Oct. 29, 2018, for spinal stenosis, fibromyalgia, a pinched nerve “and related symptoms.” Ingram was expected to return to work in January 2019.
On Dec. 20, 2018, however, Ingram was purportedly informed that Bartow County Schools did not intend on renewing her contract and asked her to not return from medical leave. The lawsuit claims that, at that time, Bartow County Schools did not give the plaintiff any reasons for the decision.
The lawsuit indicates Ingram was medically cleared to return to work on Jan. 8, 2019. However, the plaintiff claims that on Jan. 17, she was informed that she had to either resign from her position with Bartow County Schools or face termination.
The lawsuit indicates Ingram turned in her resignation the following day.
Records indicate the plaintiff filed a claim with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last July. The EEOC closed its file on the charge in January, with investigator Serena A. Curry stating the commission was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes,” yet adding “this does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes.”
The lawsuit indicates Ingram received a notice of right to sue on Jan. 17, 2020.
Ingram’s legal counsel states that Bartow County Schools was aware of the plaintiff’s disabilities, adding that she “suffered the adverse action of constructive discharge.” Furthermore, they claim the school system’s reasons for terminating the plaintiff is “pretextual,” asserting that the defendant’s decision to force Ingram to resign following her medical leave demonstrated “a discriminatory animus.”
The suit also claims the plaintiff “suffered a materially adverse employment action under the FMLA leave,” alleging “the timing of the protected activity and adverse action infer causation.”
Rachel B. Canfield, of Atlanta's The Kirby G. Smith Law Firm, LLC, indicated the plaintiff is seeking declaratory relief and “actual and compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by the enlightened conscience of a jury.”
The lawsuit also claims that Ingram was instructed by a multi-tier support system coordinator to “copy” signatures on student support team notes. Bartow County Schools opened an investigation on May 25, 2017, with the plaintiff placed on a professional development plan (PDP) on Aug. 11.
The filings indicate the Georgia Professional Standards Commission recommended that Ingram by suspended for 90 days. Per the lawsuit, Hamilton Crossing Elementary School Principal Lynn Robertson informed Ingram that she would receive an “unsatisfactory” summative review score for the school year on March 29, 2018. From March to October of that year, Ingram was required to attend PDP progress meetings.
In an email statement, BCSS Chief Human Resources Officer Macy M. Defnall said neither the school system or any school system representatives have received any summons associated with the lawsuit. "Legal counsel for the school system informed administration upon review of court case management files ahead of [the] posted deadlines for application," she stated.
BCSS Communications Director Alisha Evans said the school system has no comments on the pending litigation.
Legal counsel for Ingram indicated the plaintiff did not wish to speak publicly about the lawsuit. “Otherwise, we have no comment on the matter at this time,” Canfield added.