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Fairbanks North Star Borough School District accused of discriminating against disabled worker

Posted: April 23, 2011 - 9:40pm

FAIRBANKS — A state commission has accused the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District of discriminating against a substitute teaching aide who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome.

The Daily News-Miner reports that a lawyer for the state Commission for Human Rights filed the complaint last week. It also alleges that the district has been illegally inquiring about the confidential medical histories of employees, and it seeks to have the district better train its managers and supervisors to prohibit discrimination in employment.

The complaint says Martha Kerr was hired as a substitute aide in May 2006, and some schools later began complaining that she was sleeping in class. Kerr replied that she wasn’t sleeping — she was closing her eyes to focus better because Asperger’s syndrome, an autism-like disorder, makes it difficult to process multiple stimuli.

The school said she could continue to work, but only at schools where people didn’t complain. The complaint says that cut deeply into the amount of hours Kerr could work; it seeks to have the district pay her back wages plus interest.

The district declined to comment on the case specifically but says it has a policy of not discriminating based on disabilities.

Kerr said she had not previously disclosed that she had Asperger’s because the form she filled out, titled “Notification of Previous Injury or Illness,” did not specifically ask.

The accusation, written by human rights commission attorney Stephen Koteff, states the school district did not assess Kerr individually to determine whether she posed a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Koteff called the borough’s actions discriminatory.

Bett Schaffhauser, the district’s employment and educational opportunity director, said she did not want to comment on Kerr’s employment because it is a “confidential personnel matter.” She said the district asks employees for medical history information in compliance with Alaska law.

“This information is consistent with business necessity,” Schaffhauser wrote in an email.

No hearing date for the commission to consider the complaint has been set.

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