A former West New York teacher is alleging in a lawsuit that she was transferred and eventually forced to retire due to age discrimination.
Gisela Ramirez-Rodriguez, who was first hired in September 2003 and discharged in May 2019, says in the 25-page, four-count complaint filed in Bergen County Superior Court on Friday that she was 65 years old when she was terminated.
On or about August 23rd, 2017, she was transferred from a 2nd grade teacher at Public School No. 2 to a 5th grade teacher and Public School No. 3 to teach social studies, health, and language arts, three subjects she had never taught before.
The lawsuit notes she taught language arts at P.S. 2 and indicates it was “unusual” for 5th grade teachers to teach more than one course or subject.
“Specifically, Defendant West New York Board of Education … with full knowledge of the fact that Plaintiff had no experience teaching 5th Grade level social studies, health and language arts and would have a difficult time becoming familiar with the curriculum and workload, even though there was an opening for a 2nd Grade teacher at P.S. #3, a position which went to a newly hired teacher between 25 and 30 years of age,” the court filing says.
Through the suit, she also contends that two other 5th grade teachers between the ages of 25 and 29 only had to teach one subject, as well as that she had to work five class periods in a row without a break.
“Due to the negative impact of the reassignment on Ms. Ramirez Rodriguez’s health, she applied for and was granted medical leave for physical and mental exhaustion, including an anxiety disorder, from February 2018 until June 2018,” the suit also claims.
“While Ms. Ramirez Rodriguez was cleared to return to work, her doctor provided Defendant West New York School District medical documentation that she would only be able to manage a 40-42-hour work week, and required the accommodation been given to her, due to her anxiety disorder.”
Furthermore, in February 2017, the lawsuit asserts that the district filed two “fabricated” reprimands against Ramirez-Rodriguez, prompting her to file a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor to request a medical leave under FMLA rules.
After meeting with Allan Roth, the assistant to the director of special services and a defendant in the suit along with Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera, Ramirez-Rodriguez asserts that her accommodations still continued to be ignored.
While they are not named as defendants, the lawsuit says Director of Human Resources Christian Cardenas and P.S. 3 Principal Robert Reiman also failed to take action.
Although her personal doctor said she could return to work a 40-42 hour work week by March 18th, 2018, a district doctor conducted a psychological medical evaluation and diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, significant stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder and therefore should not return to work yet.
Based on court documents, Ramirez-Rodriguez, was informed by Roth on April 30th, 2018 that the district felt she could no longer perform her job, leading to Brito Herrera suspending her the following week, pending action by the board of education.
On July 16th of the same year, Ramirez-Rodriguez filed an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before requesting to only teach language arts for the upcoming school year.
Despite having three notes from her personal doctor, the district would not accept her accommodation request. A short time later, September 13th, 2018, she received a “right to sue” form from the EEOC.
A week later, another district doctor conducted a fitness of duty evaluation and signed off on having Ramirez-Rodriguez continue to teach.
In December, she filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court alleging New Jersey Against Discrimination and Retaliation (NJ LAD) violations.
According to the suit, the beginning of the end came on April 5th, 2019, when she received a rice notice from the district and the BOE approved a resolution for an involuntary application for Ordinary Disability Retirement with the New Jersey Pension System five days later.
Through counsel, Ramirez-Rodriguez says the board acted upon the advice of Roth and Brito Herrera, who went against the advice of the district’s doctors.
The suit alleges violations of NJ LAD – for both failure to reinstate/hire and perceived disability – as well as aiding and abetting and reserving the right to sue John Does 1-10.
She is seeking to either be reinstated or paid to be compensated for her damages, which includes punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, “and expenses and such other monetary and non-monetary compensation as will make Plaintiff whole.”
BOE officials declined to comment on pending litigation.