Hi, I am a sophmore in a public college who suffers from discraphia, dyslexia, and ADD. I have letters of accommodation which allow for me to have a note taker or use a laptop and sit in the front of the class room to subdue my ADD. Recently one of my teachers got mad at me for typing and after calling me out in front of the whole class made me put away my laptop. After class I asked her to find a note taker for me since she does not like typing and she has still not found one for me. Under the American's With Disabilities Act my professors are required to apply to my disability requests. Basically what I want to know is can I sue them for their negligence?
2 Answers from Attorneys
Before filing suit, I would advise that you first attempt to resolve
this issue by bring the the matter to the attention of the college
administrative authorities without having to resort to litigation in
the federal courts.
Hello there--I agree with Mr. Hendrickson that you start administratively and informally. The college should have a civil rights or diversity officer, but the dean of students' office may also be a good starting place. The U.S. Education Dept has ADA and Section 504 regulations affecting schools and colleges across the nation, which your school might have violated, so that's another route. But we talk to them first, try to settle on an accommodation that both sides can live with, and then look to litigate if that's not possible. (By the way, what you have here, if it's a viable claim, is not negligence, but intentional acts or omissions that violate federal anti-discrimination law. Also, it may be the school's duty to accommodate, even if not the duty of the individual teacher; we can look into who specifically is liable.)
Odd that the laptop clacking was so distracting to this teacher-- did she ban laptops in class, and even if she did, was her reason the clacking or the concern that students were surfing the web instead of paying attention? Other facts could be relevant, like what else she might have said to you about your need for accommodation. Sometimes disability discrimination can show up as an unwillingness to believe someone is genuinely disabled. On the other hand, the law doesn't entitle a protected person in every case to his or her favorite accommodation; the institution can choose an accommodation, and we can look at it and see if it's reasonable. In this case the school may be afraid that to hire note-takers for every student with ADD would break the bank, as there are so many such students; on the other hand, you've got more than just ADD, and anyway this teacher who's irritated by the typing might be a minority of one. But there are lots of potential accommodations out there, and negotiations with the college might uncover some that are workable for you that they haven't thought of.
If you get nowhere with school officials, a lawyer could help by negotiating with them for you under threat of federal litigation. That threat is weaker if the negotiator is just you, without a lawyer. As an experienced civil rights lawyer myself, I would be happy to work with you, figure out what we want and how to approach the school. I'm managing lawyer of the great little plaintiffs' firm below. Please let me know if I can be of service. --Steve Pershing.
Stephen B. Pershing, Esq.
The Chavers Firm
1250 24th St., N.W., Ste. 300
Washington, D.C. 20037
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