TRENTON – The Division on Civil Rights announced today that a public school district in Hudson County will pay a total of $90,000 to resolve allegations it failed to accommodate the disability of a former teacher’s aide, then declined to renew the aide’s contract in retaliation for her complaint to the State.
Under terms of a settlement, Respondent the West New York Board of Education will pay former teacher’s aide Maria Osnowitz a total of $83,000. The school board will also pay $7,000 to the State.
In addition to the monetary terms, the school board has agreed to arrange anti-discrimination training within six months for all school district management staff. The training will focus on state and federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as anti-discrimination policies in the work place. Under the settlement, the school district makes no admission of wrongdoing.
“This settlement resolves troubling allegations concerning the treatment of a disabled employee and will result in greater awareness and more discussion – particularly among people in decision-making roles -- about a school district’s obligations under the law,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara.
Osnowitz has a mobility impairment related to knee injuries she suffered in 2006. She uses a motorized wheelchair or scooter to get around, and otherwise must walk using two canes.
Osnowitz’s original complaint alleged that, because of her disability, she sought permission to park in a covered parking deck area near the entrance to the middle school where she worked, but was refused by the school principal. Osnowitz also alleged that she was required to attend two meetings and a training workshop held in non-accessible locations in the district and that, in each case, her request that the event be relocated to an accessible site was denied.
In February 2009, Osnowitz filed a formal Complaint with the Division on Civil Rights alleging unlawful employment discrimination. Approximately two months later Osnowitz, who had worked for the West New York schools as a teacher’s aide from September 2005 through June 2009, received a letter advising that she would not be offered re-employment for the 2009-2010 school year.
The school district’s letter offered no explanation for the decision and, on September 22, 2009, Osnowitz filed a second complaint charging that its failure to continue her employment represented unlawful reprisal.
Deputy Attorney General Beverley Lapsley, assigned to the Division of Law’s Civil Rights Section, and Division on Civil Rights Investigators Agnes Roncaglio and Ana Limi-Magras handled the Osnowitz matter on behalf of the state.