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Lenk v. St. Louis Public Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 23, 2019

JUNE LENK, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. LOUIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS and SHC SERVICES, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DAVID D. NOCE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on the second motion of defendant St. Louis Public Schools ("SLPS") for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 35). Plaintiff June Lenk opposes the motion. (Doc. 45). The Court heard oral arguments from the parties on March 26, 2019.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's amended complaint

          Plaintiff alleges the following facts in her amended complaint. Plaintiff is legally blind. (Doc. 32, ¶ 9). She has a Masters of Education in Visual Impairment and a Masters of Education in Learning Disabled. (Id. at ¶ 11). She has over ten years of experience teaching "in various capacities throughout Missouri." (Id.). She began working at defendant SLPS in August 2015 as an Itinerant Vision Teacher of SLPS students. (Id. at 13). While based at Gateway Michael Elementary School, she taught at nine elementary, middle, and high schools, traveling throughout the school district to teach students with vision impairments. (Id. at 14, 16). At Gateway Michael Elementary School, she had a locked office to store teaching supplies, student files, and magnification devices; SLPS provided her with a key to this office. (Id. at ¶ 16). Plaintiff also used the office to perform critical work functions like updating student Individualized Educational Program (“IEP”) information on the SLPS digital database. (Id.). Plaintiff was required to submit weekly timesheets and mileage sheets to SLPS staff for approval. (Id. at ¶ 17). SLPS gave plaintiff an SLPS email address (junelenk@slps.org). Plaintiff used this email account for all of her work-related business, including emails to SLPS staff and Supplemental Health Care ("SHC") employees. (Id. at ¶ 18).

         Defendant SLPS was aware of plaintiff's disability, and it assigned Carrie McDaniel (SLPS's employee and Special Education Administrator) to assist plaintiff with any matters related to her disability. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20). Before the beginning of the relevant school year, plaintiff notified Ms. McDaniel that she required assistive software on her work computer to complete her duties, including a Speech Package and magnification software that would enable her to listen to or read documents and see images. (Id. at ¶ 21). Ms. McDaniel coordinated with SLPS IT staff. Defendant's staff member traveled to Gateway Michael school to review plaintiff's computer and software, and to check their compatibility and functionality with the SLPS networks and necessary database. (Id. at ¶ 22). However, this "accommodation" effort "was not satisfactory because plaintiff was not often able to access" the required SLPS database in order to update student IEPs, a critical function of her employment. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23).

         Plaintiff alerted SLPS and Supplemental HealthCare (“SHC”) about the technical difficulties, and despite multiple calls by SLPS staff to SLPS IT in the fall and winter of 2015, SLPS was unable to provide a solution. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25).

         On January 20, 2016, plaintiff received a call from SHC employee Natalie Allenbeck informing plaintiff that SLPS had complained about her, though Ms. Allenbeck did not provide any details about the complaint. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 29). Plaintiff was shocked, as she had interacted positively with fellow SLPS and SHC staff, with the only issue being her ability to access the SLPS database and timely update IEP plans. (Id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiff had made several complaints herself to SHC and SLPS about her difficulties accessing the database. (Id. at ¶ 28). Ms. Allenbeck of SHC told plaintiff to “keep her head down” and avoid any other problems. (Id. at ¶ 29).

         In February 2016, SHC provided plaintiff a new laptop. However, problems remained with her accessing the database. Further efforts in March 2016 by SLPS IT personnel and a third party allowed her to better access the needed database. (Id. at ¶ 30).

         On June 8, 2016, plaintiff was notified that SLPS would not renew her contract for the 2016-2017 school year. (Id. at ¶ 31). Plaintiff was surprised, as she believed she was very well received by all the principals and SLPS staff with whom she had worked and she had been discussing plans with them for the next school year. (Id. at ¶ 32). Ms. McCormack told plaintiff she believed that, if there had not been the computer problems plaintiff had in accessing the SLPS database, plaintiff would have continued working at SLPS. (Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiff was notified around August 2016 that her position was given to another teacher who did not require any speech or magnification software and who did not have the same qualifications and experience as plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35).

         Plaintiff's amended complaint brings three claims against defendant SLPS: Count 1 for unlawful discharge in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"); Count 2 for failure to accommodate in violation of the ADA; and Count 3 for violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq. (Doc. 32 at 6-8).

         Defendant SLPS's answer to amended complaint

         In its answer to plaintiff's amended complaint, defendant SLPS asserts the following. It generally denies plaintiff's claims and specifically denies plaintiff was an employee of SLPS. (Doc. 33 at ¶¶ 2, 5, Ex. A). During the 2015-2016 school year, plaintiff was an employee of SLPS vendor Supplement Health Care Services, Inc. ("SHC") as a contracted Itinerant Vision Teacher assigned to teach SLPS students at SLPS schools. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-15). Plaintiff in this lawsuit has previously admitted being an employee of SHC. (Id. at ¶ 5). Ms. Carrie McDonald is a SLPS administrative employee. (Id. at ¶ 20). During the 2015-2016 school year, SHC purchased, provided, and uploaded additional software on the computer that SHC purchased for plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 21). At SHC's request, SLPS assisted SHC regarding the installation of software onto plaintiff's laptop computer to ensure compatibility between the technology provided by SHC and SLPS's network. (Id. at ¶ 22). SLPS admits it assisted plaintiff in resolving issues she had with SLPS's system. (Id. at ¶ 24).

         Attached to defendant's answer is the Consultant Service Agreement between SLPS and ...


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