PRESS RELEASE

El Cajon, California:

College District Held Responsible for Disability Discrimination of an Employee with Asperger’s Syndrome

L.K., 41, has been a Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) employee since 1996 with a history of long-term steady employment, quality work performance and active.orgmunity/campus involvement. She graduated with honors and awards from Grossmont College, which is part of GCCCD, and has been featured in GCCCD and city publications both as a student and an employee.

In early 2002, L.K. disclosed her condition (Asperger’s Syndrome) and intent to request an a.orgmodation under ADA (transfer to a vacant position). After that, she was subjected to disparate treatment, including but not limited to premature termination of her family’s health benefits, her voice mail having been depersonalized and her e-mail account having been blocked.

Against its own written policy setting 30-day deadline to respond to disability a.orgmodation requests, GCCCD had stalled L.K.’s request for about 1.5 years, withholding information about available vacant positions to transfer. When the violation was pointed out, the employer’s response was to modify the policy to eliminate 30-day deadline. From now on, disabled GCCCD employees who request a.orgmodations may have to wait indefinitely for their request to be considered.

By summer 2003, the employer left L.K. no choice but to accept demotion and 45% pay cut as the only chance for receiving an a.orgmodation. In October 2003, GCCCD administration placed her on an indefinite “illness leave” with no request for such leave from L.K., no documented medical necessity and no authorization by medical professionals. To this day, GCCCD does not allow L.K. to return to work.

Among other college courses, GCCCD offers studies in Disability Services Management. It also claims to be an equal opportunity employer.

On October 7, 2005, after a two-week trial, the El Cajon, CA, jury awarded L.K. damages for lost wages, lost benefits and mental distress in the total amount of $299,402.88.

The jury concluded that the employer subjected its employee with disability to disparate treatment, and that GCCCD failed to timely engage in an ADA interactive process in good faith even after US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (DOE OCR) intervention and request to.orgply with the law.

Lathe Gill, the plaintiff’s attorney,.orgments on the jury verdict:

"The jury saw here a.orgpetent, dedicated individual with Asperger's Syndrome whose needs and contributions were discounted by her employer.  And they held the employer responsible.  People with developmental disabilities take note, there is a place for you in the workplace.  Your skills and intelligence and effort can make a dramatic difference at work.  Do not give up!"

Lathe Gill ( www.lathegill.org ) is a California-based lawyer practicing law on behalf of people with disabilities.

Expert witness Cynthia Norall, Ph.D., an educational and behavioral consultant, the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Autism Services and Education, Inc. (also known as C.A.S.E., Inc.  www.casefamily.org ) offered her testimony and educated the court about Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum.

Dr. Norall, a licensed educational psychologist and a nationally certified cognitive behavior therapist, consults and gives expert testimony both locally, in California, and internationally.  She’s worked with hundreds of clients on autism spectrum, and uses many techniques valuable for teaching social understanding skills that can easily be applied in the classroom and in the workplace setting. Among other educational methods, she offers through C.A.S.E. social skills therapy groups, called Friends' Club®, as well as Asperger’s Syndrome support groups for young adults, and develops appropriate educational programs.  She and her team of therapists meet with small groups of children/teens in a clinical setting to teach social cognition skills. Her dissertation included research in parent's perspectives regarding educational resources for children with autism.

Dr. Norall.orgments, “CASE, Inc. is pleased with Mrs. K.’s success in ove.orging discrimination in the workplace. At CASE, Inc. we celebrate people with Asperger's Syndrome for all that they have contributed to who we are as a society.  We hope that the challenges Mrs. K. has ove.orge can lead to better understanding and acceptance of people with Asperger's Syndrome so that such discrimination never happens again.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental condition related to the autism spectrum. Affected individuals (usually of normal or above average intelligence, capable of intense focus, strong attention to detail, painstaking adherence to policies and procedures, unorthodox problem-solving and high productivity in the areas of their interests and aptitudes) are prone to motor coordination impairments, sensory oversensitivities, have difficulty interacting socially along “unwritten rules”, reading nonverbal language or navigating workplace politics, may prefer solitary activities and are often viewed as eccentric. As a tragic result, many end up un- or underemployed and on the receiving end of prejudice, bullying, negative stereotyping, harassment and discrimination.  

This case and its ou.orge has resonated widely throughout autism spectrum and anti-bullying.orgmunities, triggering an international interest and a letter campaign from those concerned about rights, dignity and well-being of citizens on autism spectrum.  

The jury verdict was met with the following.orgments:

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"Sincere congratulations on winning. It's wonderful to know that justice did prevail”. - Julie, UK.

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“Thanks to you for going the distance. I know it  wasn't easy. I am so glad! “ – Gayle Fitzpatrick MEd, a professional educator, advocate and a parent of two children with AS, Maine, USA.

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“Just saw this and loudly cheered. That is a great result for everyone”. – Michelle Dawson, a renown Canadian autistic advocate, http://www.sentex.net/~nexus23/naa_02.html

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“We have all won because we need to stop this kind of behavior rather then just allow people to be walked on”. – Victoria Telep from Michigan, USA, mother of an autistic child

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“…We have done so much together haven't we? Who would have thought we could have ever wielded such a power thru our letters, our knowledge and determination?” – Lorelie Young, grandmother of two autistic children, Oregon, USA

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Minna Mettinen, an autistic advocate and a mother of two autistic children from Ontario, Canada, wrote: “This is such good news - for us all, (those of us who are still young enough to not have worked yet, or are working, and now have a precedence set to protect them also (hopefully) in the future.

Thank you to all who helped with this, by writing, by offering support personally, or professionally, by keeping their eyes on these folks, and sending them letters when it was time to do so…this is what Autistic Advocacy should be about....thank you all who have helped.”

Jack Sleeth, Jr, one of the attorneys representing GCCCD, intends to appeal the jury decision. According to the following publications, Mr. Sleeth has previously taken a stance against at least two other individuals on autism spectrum:

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Jury told teacher bruised autistic children - An attorney told a Superior Court jury Wednesday that she believes she can prove an Escondido schoolteacher pinched, squeezed and bruised two of the autistic preschoolers in his care. Attorneys for the six defendants ---- which include the teacher and the Escondido Union School District ---- argue that the students were not abused and were never intentionally hurt. The children's parents have filed a civil suit, claiming the two severely autistic children were physically abused from 2000 to early 2002 at the Nicolaysen Center, a preschool geared toward special education students. By Teri

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Jury gets case of alleged abuse of autistic kids - An attorney for two young autistic children on Thursday asked a jury to award each child $1.46 million based on allegations that their Escondido school teacher repeatedly pinched, squeezed and bruised them. Attorneys for the six defendants ---- which include teacher Shawn Priest and the Escondido Union School District ---- argue that the students were not abused and were never intentionally hurt. After three weeks of testimony, jury deliberations in the case began late Thursday afternoon and will pick up again this morning. By Teri Figueroa

© L.K. 2005 All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted with Permission.

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