The Boston Teachers Union today sued BPS over the way it allegedly refused to grant accommodations to teachers and paraprofessionals with serious underlying health conditions that should have been enough to allow them to continue working remotely during the pandemic even after schools re-opened for in-person learning.
Unlike suits brought by unions representing state troopers, prison guards, Boston firefighters, police detectives and police superior officers, the BTU is not arguing its employees have the right to refuse vaccinations unless they get something in return.
Instead, in its complaint, filed in federal court in Boston, the union is arguing that eight specific BPS employees were denied their rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for "reasonable accommodations" based on their health issues - and that the school system did not even comply with their rights to simply have their cases heard.
The union says some of the alleged harassment that flowed from BPS actions started when the entire system was still conducting remote education and vaccines were not yet available and generally followed a similar pattern: The employee would ask for a "reasonable accommodation," hear nothing from BPS for weeks or months, even if they asked for a followup, then suddenly be told their request was denied.
The complaint details the cases of the employees without naming them; something BPS could contest in court. The union did acknowledge that three of their workers got their jobs back and returned to work after they were vaccinated - in one case after contracting Covid-19.
One of the employees was a teacher in a high-risk pregnancy in February, 2021, whom the union says was actively discouraged from seeking to work remotely - and that even aside from Covid-19, she was refused certain accomodations due to the natury of her pregnancy - including access to a private bathroom and periodic extra breaks.
As a result, Employee A returned to in-person work on June 1, 2021. Subsequently, on June 9, 2021, Employee A's medical condition deteriorated to the point where she needed an ambulance to take her from her school to a local hospital.
Another was a paraprofessional with more than 20 years of BPS work who sought remote work in October, 2020 due to her severe asthma. The union says BPS did not answer her request for four months, then told her her principal was the one to deny it, when the principal told her it was central administration that did.
Another paraprofessional sought remote work in January, 2021 due to diabetes and high blood pressure, only to be denied "any good- faith interactive
process." This employee "subsequently contracted COVID-19 and was forced to miss over a month of work, only returning after she was fully vaccinated in
May of 2021."
A 65-year-old teacher with an autoimmune disorder "that often manifested as severe asthma," asked for the ability to work remotely in the summer of 2020, heard nothing, asked again on Oct. 1, again was given no "substantive response," took a leave of absence, for which she was not paid, then finally retired in February, 2021, still without having gotten any 'substantive response from BPS."
A music teacher with type-1 diabetes submitted a remote-work request in September, 2020, never heard back from BPS, was ignored in his requests to get an answer, months went by and then "was forced to return to work on a hybrid schedule" in early 2021.
A phys-ed teacher with a genetic heart defect that almost killed him in 2019 asked for remote work in September, 2020.
His doctor advised him that there was a high probability that COVID-19 would result in his death if he were to contract it. Employee F's doctor advised that he work remotely. He temporarily worked remotely until BPS transitioned to in-person learning, at which time Employee F was given a short notice that he would be required to work in-person. Employee F reminded Defendants of his doctor's advice and the likely fatal consequences, however, Defendants declined to provide further remote work accommodations. As a result, Employee F had to use his accrued personal time until he was fully vaccinated before returning to in-person work.
A teacher with asthma asked for continued remote work in August, 2020, got no answer "for weeks" and then was told she "had to find coverage for her classroom in a manner that would not incur additional expense for Defendants." That became moot when the entire district went to remote learning, but she continued to ask what would happen when in-person classes resumed and, the complaint alleges, never got an answer. "She did not return to in-person work until she was fully vaccinated in April ."
A teacher who uses hearing aids, objected to the "hybrid" teaching model BPS tried, in which many classes consisted of students in school and students at home. Because of her hearing issues, the teacher could either do in-person teaching with her hearing aids, or remotely, with headphones, but not both - with headphones on in her classroom, she would be unable to hear any of her students physically present.
Although Employee H's request for accommodation was initially granted, BPS rescinded it the school day before in-person learning was to recommence at her school. She subsequently filed a complaint at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
The union is seeking back pay plus damages and attorneys' fees.