A former Beaufort County School District teacher who lost her vision mid-school year filed a lawsuit against the district for wrongful termination, failing to accommodate her in the workplace and discriminating against her because of her handicap, according to a suit filed earlier this month.
A teacher at Whale Branch Middle School in the 2015-16 school year, Christine Terry lost her vision that fall and was fired less than a year later. The district “informed (Terry) on multiple occasions that she was being terminated from employment because of her impaired vision,” the suit states.
The suit also claims the district provided “no assistance or resources,” a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, under which Terry claims she is protected.
District spokesman Jim Foster wrote in an email Friday, “We don’t believe this was a wrongful termination. We don’t believe any discrimination occurred, and we’re confident that this lawsuit will be resolved in the district’s favor.”
Foster did not know whether the district currently employs or has previously employed blind staff members. He said the district does not track employee statistics on vision impairment.
“I’ll let the suit speak for itself,” said Terry’s lawyer, Bud Fairey, who declined to comment further.
While doctors could not initially explain Terry’s sudden blindness in the fall of 2015, she was diagnosed with permanent and irreversible vision impairment on March 9, 2016. Terry informed a district human resources specialist of her diagnosis two days later, the suit states.
Terry consulted with the South Carolina Commission for the Blind whose Vocational Rehabilitation program staff work with eligible blind and visually impaired South Carolina residents to help them reach their employment goals, according to its website. Federal law prohibits the commission from confirming an individual’s involvement in the program, spokeswoman Jacqueline Keisler wrote in an email.
When the district informed Terry it was “unreasonable to expect the district to hire another person,” the suit states she modified her accommodation request to ask for the use of a guide dog and special equipment.
In May 2016, the district entered into a contract to employ Terry as a teacher for the 2016-2017 school year at the same school, according to the filing. A month later, a district human resources specialist informed her that the accommodations she requested were unreasonable and she would be terminated as of July 1, 2016.
On Aug. 4, 2016, the suit states Terry received a letter from schools superintendent Jeff Moss that said he would be recommending her termination, though her benefits ended July 1, 2016.
Terry is seeking reinstatement of her job, back pay and “front pay,” the suit states.