Oklahoma City Public Schools agrees to pay former teacher $400,000 in federal lawsuit

OKLAHOMA CITY — A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by a former Oklahoma City teacher who claimed she was subject to “an ongoing course of harassment” due to a disability.

The school board discussed a $400,000 settlement on Monday night during executive session. Court documents show the case was settled on November 27.

The federal lawsuit was filed by Rhonda Richey, who was employed at Eugene Field Elementary School as a fifth grade teacher in 2013.

According to court documents, Richey notified the Board of Education of Independent School District No. 89 and Vice Principal Melinda Elms and Principal Paige Bressman that she suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the fall of 2013. The condition, commonly referred to as ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

The lawsuit alleges Richey was concerned about her ability to deal with the “physical and mental stress of teaching a full-time 5th grade class.”

“After notifying Defendant’s representatives of her disability, defendant Paige Bressman, as an individual and as a representative of the Board of Education, Independent School District No. 89, began a course of harassment based on Plaintiff’s disability,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff advised management that she could teach regular classes as long as she had reduced hours. School management refused to consider as an accommodation reduction of her hours as a classroom teacher."

The complaint goes on to state Bressman caused Richey’s roster of children to be changed to a group of academically low students that would “increase the physical and mental demands” and directly affect her medical condition.

"Just simply from reading the allegations, it seemed that behavior was definitely a violation of federal law," said Lindsey Mulinix-Ewert.

Mulinex-Ewert is an associate attorney in Oklahoma. Her law firm did not represent Richey or the district.

Richey alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.

"In this lawsuit, they chose to bring the lawsuit under violations of federal law and so that’s why they got into federal court," she said. "Standards are different but under the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employer is required to allow an employee a reasonable accommodation."

In a statement, district spokesperson Beth Harrison told News 4, “The parties have reached a mutually agreeable resolution of the case. Ms. Richey left OKCPS in 2016.”

An attorney for the Richey declined an on-camera interview Tuesday.

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