Former teacher sues Janesville School District for discrimination

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By Kevin Murphy
Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MADISON—A former teacher is suing the Janesville School District, saying district officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing her and refusing to accommodate her problems with depression and anxiety.

Peggy Wileman had taught at Harrison Elementary School since 1995 and earned positive job performance reviews. Wileman also suffered from anxiety, depression and panic disorder, which caused nervous breakdowns for which she was hospitalized and received treatment, according to the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

After 17 years of teaching third grade, Wileman was told she would be teaching first grade in fall 2012. Wileman says in the suit that she was not consulted about the transfer, nor did she want it.

Harrison Principal Jessica Grandt-Turke told Wileman that she was being placed on the district's supervision and evaluation plan, based on alleged performance problems during the school year, according to the lawsuit.

Wileman said in the suit it was the first time in her Janesville career that she was disciplined for performance problems. She claims the performance allegations were based on her disabilities and absences during prior years.

School district spokesman Patrick Gasper referred a reporter to Julie Lewis, an attorney for the school district, who had no immediate comment on the suit.

Wileman's attorney, Peter Fox, said Wileman had periodic medical absences during her tenure at Harrison, but he would not specify the number.

The supervision plan required Wileman to do extra lesson planning during nonwork hours and submit it by 8:30 a.m. Mondays. Other Harrison teachers were not required to do such planning, according to the lawsuit.

Wileman said she had an unusual number of students with behavior problems in 2012-13 and asked for a full-time teacher's aide. Her request was denied, but aides were provided to the two other first-grade teachers, according to the lawsuit.

Wileman said close scrutiny from Grandt-Turke caused her stress.

Within a month after school started, Wileman received permission to take medical leave until Jan. 28, 2013, according to the lawsuit.

Despite a “very positive review” for the 2012-13 school year, Grandt-Turke continued Wileman's supervision plan into 2013-14, according to the suit.

In November 2013, Grandt-Turke noted several performance deficiencies in Wileman's formal review, according to the lawsuit. Wileman said she did not agree with the review's findings, and she suffered a panic attack for which she was hospitalized for a day.

Wileman said she provided a medical excuse, but Grandt-Turke wrote her up for missing a day's work, according to the lawsuit.

In December 2013, Grandt-Turke recommended that Wileman's contract not be renewed, according to the suit.

In her lawsuit, Wileman said she was placed on a remedial plan that would result in termination if she did not successfully complete it.

Wileman suffered a panic attack in February 2014 and requested two days off. Grandt-Turke said Wileman's substitute teacher plan was unacceptable, according to the lawsuit.

Wileman's doctor placed her on sick leave on Feb. 4, 2014, because of a nervous breakdown, according to the lawsuit.

In March 2014, the district rejected Wileman's request for time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, saying she had provided insufficient information, according to the lawsuit.

Because of her health problems, Wileman did not report to work March 17, 2014, as the district required. According to the lawsuit, she was fired for “job abandonment” the next day in an email from Stephen Sperry, the district's human relations director.

Wileman filed two complaints with the state's Equal Rights Division, Fox said. One was dismissed because she missed a deadline, and probable cause for discrimination was found in the other, he said.

The lawsuit names Grandt-Turke, Sperry and the school district as defendants. It alleges that they discriminated against Wileman by disciplining and dismissing her because of her known disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit seeks reinstatement, back pay, punitive damages and legal costs.

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