Blind Teacher Sues for Wrongful Termination, Failure to Accommodate

A not-for-profit social service agency that provides services to foster care children and preschool education to three and four-year-olds is being sued by a blind special education teacher for terminating her employment and not providing her with a reasonable accommodation in order to keep her job.

Karina Lopez received her certification to teach special and general education to elementary school students in 2014, according to the complaint. She also has a masters degree in special and elementary education. She worked as a regular substitute teacher for the New York City department of education for a number of years.

Lopez is partially blind but has successfully used a closed-circuit television magnified (CCTV) device to teach in the past, according to the complaint. She claims she “has never been prevented from teaching effectively because of her blindness, provided that she was given the proper reasonable accommodations.”

In May 2017 Lopez was hired as a teacher by the Anna Lefkowitz Day Care Center. She was required to undergo two lessons while being observed and evaluated by two members of the school’s staff.

After both sessions Lopez received both positive and negative feedback with regard to her use of a CCTV to carry out the lessons. But she was terminated right after the second session and told that while “her skills, expertise, and credentials were more than adequate,” she was unable to keep the students focused on what she was doing during the lesson – reading to the class.

Lopez claims that, during the evaluated lessons, she used her own CCTV, which was relatively new and she had difficulty operating it at the time. She claims the school “never gave [her] the time needed to acclimate to the new CCTV machine and to thereby make it less awkward to use during a lesson.”

In addition, Lopez claims that, prior to her termination, she had ordered a portable CCTV that would have been easier and less awkward to use during her lessons and that she informed the school of  this. But the school “never engaged in discussions with Lopez about what reasonable accommodations would allow her to perform her job as a teacher,” the complaint states.

Lopez is represented by Joseph Carbonaro of New York City who brought the action in the Southern District of New York.

Image Source: Julien (Flickr)