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ME federal court rules against Greenville School Department in disability discrimination and retaliation case

Earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the Greenville School Department (“School Department”) unlawfully discriminated against Bruce Hanson because of his disabilities and because he requested reasonable accommodations for those disabilities.  Mr. Hanson, who is represented by the Maine Employee Rights Group, worked as the maintenance supervisor for the School Department for 11 years until he was terminated on March 14, 2012.

In June 2011, Mr. Hanson requested medical leave from the School Department’s Superintendent, Beth Lorigan, because he had prostate cancer.  In response to his request for medical leave, Superintendent Lorigan told Mr. Hanson that it might be a good time for him to retire.  A week later, without giving Mr. Hanson any notice of her intention to do so, which violated Maine public meeting laws, Superintendent Lorigan met with the School Committee, criticized Mr. Hanson’s job performance, and recommended that Mr. Hanson either retire or be terminated.

In July 2011, Superintendent Lorigan offered Mr. Hanson the options of either early retirement or termination.  Mr. Hanson rejected these options and, instead, took medical leave.  Mr. Hanson went out on medical leave in August 2011.  While out on medical leave, he informed the School Department that, in addition to his prostate cancer, he had heart disease and, as a result, he would need to get medical clearance to return to work.  He received this medical clearance in February 2012.

Superintendent Lorigan told Mr. Hanson in March 2012 that the School Committee had eliminated his position even though the School Committee had not yet voted to take that action.  At that point, Mr. Hanson filed a discrimination complaint with Superintendent Lorigan and the School Committee.  In violation of School Department policy, no one with the School Department investigated Mr. Hanson’s complaint.  In August 2012, after Mr. Hanson’s maintenance supervisor position was supposedly “eliminated,” the School Department created a new maintenance position and filled it with an employee less qualified than Mr. Hanson but who did not have disabilities like he did.  No one ever offered this new maintenance position to Mr. Hanson even though the maintenance employee, with the exception of supervisory duties, performed the same duties that Mr. Hanson had performed.

The School Department and Mr. Hanson do not agree on many of the facts discussed above.  Because material facts are in dispute, the court determined that a trial would be necessary in this case.  If necessary, the Maine Employee Rights Group will be ready to win this case at trial and hold the School Department accountable for violating Mr. Hanson’s rights.