FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel
Laura J. Miller, Managing Attorney
(312) 341-0022, (800) 537-2632 or
TTY (800) 610-2779
Public Information Director
Kennedy-King College Denies Tenure to Teacher with Disability and Terminates Employment
Equip for Equality Steps Up for Outstanding Chemistry Professor Denied Reasonable Accommodations by City Colleges of Chicago
CHICAGO (Feb. 18, 2003) -- Representing Jacqueline Haas, a 62-year-old assistant chemistry professor employed by Kennedy-King College from Aug. 1996 until May 19, 2001, Equip for Equality (EFE) filed suit on Fri., Feb. 14, in U.S. District Court alleging that City Colleges of Chicago discriminated against the plaintiff under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by failing to provide reasonable accommodations, denying tenure, terminating employment and refusing to hire her part-time following termination because of her disability.
Haas, who received only the highest praise for her teaching from student evaluations and her department chairman, holds a PhD in chemistry from Oregon State University, two master's degrees in teaching chemistry and biology from Universitšt Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany, and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Chicago.
A ruptured brain aneurysm in 1989 left her substantially limited in the major life activities of walking, lifting and seeing -- but never in her ability to fulfill all the requirements of her teaching responsibilities or the requirements for obtaining tenure despite unfathomable obstacles and failure by Kennedy-King to provide the most minimal accommodations.
"The humiliation, degradation and frustration of our client's experience at Kennedy-King comprise nothing short of a horror story," says Karen I. Ward, EFE Senior Counsel and attorney representing Haas. "Her daily surmounting of obstacles just to do her job and her documented diligence in seeking reasonable accommodations to meet onerous tenure requirements should have won her accolades from Kennedy-King. Instead, a brilliant and popular professor was discarded because her disability was an inconvenience to the college."
Indignities suffered by Haas, who provided her own power wheelchair to be kept at Kennedy-King for ambulation that would otherwise be painful and extremely slow, included dragging herself up the stairs because of a frequently inoperative elevator and having to urinate in a basket in the chemistry storeroom because there was no rest room on the floor where she taught.
In addition to recommendations and evaluations from the department chair, three teaching peers and an administrator, candidates for tenure must submit a portfolio of teaching accomplishments and academic pursuits, as well as a tenure project. Haas worked for more than two years on a study and analysis to revitalize the school's organic chemistry curriculum to give Kennedy-King students the necessary skills to compete successfully in the 21st Century.
Because her disability made word processing extremely slow, Haas had to work many additional hours to prepare for her classes and contract renewal submissions, and to assemble the tenure project. She requested the reasonable accommodation of being allowed extended hours of access to her office and laboratory after the building was closed to the public.
Her first request was approved by her department head and the director of security in 1998. But in October 1999, the director of security decreed that written authorization of Kennedy-King administrators was required for any person seeking access during restricted hours. So Haas sought and was granted a letter of access by the new President of the College, Wellington Wilson, and carried the letter with her at all times. Nonetheless, she was repeatedly harassed, denied access and evicted from the premises by security personnel.
On one occasion, security personnel called the Chicago Police Department, which dispatched five officers with guns drawn to evict her from the building. She then had to wait outside for several hours for her pre-scheduled paratransit ride to pick her up. Although she reported this and other incidents - including having her wheelchair blocked with janitorial equipment rendering it inaccessible - no action was taken to stop the harassment or to provide accommodations.
Meantime a new security director took over and her previous approval was nullified without explanation. Haas continued to press for the accommodation throughout the summer and fall of 2000, and kept Luann King, administrator for the tenure process, apprised of her efforts. Dean King did nothing to help Haas, but instead harassed Haas about deadlines and refused to accept a nearly complete portfolio while Haas awaited word on her accommodation.
Haas continued to press for an accommodation, calling on the president's staff and the president himself to help her. But her memorandum renewing her request for an accommodation delivered to the college president on October 25 remained unanswered. On Dec. 4, 2000 President Wilson rejected the enthusiastic recommendation of Haas's department chair, and recommended that she be denied tenure for not completing her portfolio on time and for not demonstrating "teaching excellence."
On Feb. 17, 2001, Haas was informed that her appointment to the faculty of Kennedy-King College would end effective May 19, 2001. Although her department chair filed a grievance on her behalf raising the issue of lack of accommodation, among others, President Wilson remained firm about denying her tenure based on her failure to provide a complete portfolio, but he backed off from the lack of teaching excellence as a reason. Further appeal of the decision was also rejected.
Subsequently, when Haas was asked by her former supervisor if she would fill a temporary position as a part-time lecturer in the chemistry department, President Wilson refused to approve the hiring on the basis that teachers who were denied tenure were not permitted to work part time. No policy to this effect existed.
"This situation is particularly disheartening because Mayor Daley has a longstanding commitment to promoting employment of people with disabilities," says Zena Naiditch, President and CEO of Equip for Equality. "I am hopeful that he will intervene in this case to ensure that his priorities are reflected in the policies and practices of the City Colleges of Chicago."
In its complaint, Equip for Equality is seeking a declaratory judgment by the Court that City Colleges of Chicago is in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for termination, denial of tenure and refusal to provide reasonable accommodations; an injunction requiring reinstatement of Haas to her position at Kennedy-King retroactive to May 2001 and requiring her promotion to a tenured faculty position - or sufficient time to complete a new application with extended access free of harassment to her office--back pay and benefits; compensatory damages; and attorneys fees.
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit entity designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System for safeguarding the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. It is the only comprehensive statewide advocacy organization providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigation.
Reference U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Chicago Case No. 03-1152
Jacqueline Haas v. Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508, DBA City Colleges of Chicago
For more information, contact Equip for Equality Senior Counsel Karen I. Ward at 312-341-0022, ext. 7330, 800-537-2632 or TTY 800-610-2779.