School principal sues school board for disability discrimination

Michelle Massey Dec. 17, 2010, 2:44am


A former New Orleans elementary school principal is suing his school board after it refused to give him a position to accommodate his disability following Hurricane Katrina.

Clarence A. Becknell filed suit against Orleans Parish School Board on Dec. 15 in federal court in New Orleans.

According to the lawsuit, Becknell started his employment with the Orleans Parish School Board in 1972 and was terminated on Dec. 31, 2005. At the time of his termination, he held the position of a tenured elementary school principal.

Becknell argues that the school board refused to accommodate his disability, degenerative arthritis of the knee, by failing to place him in a school that did not require him to climb stairs.

The court documents state that Becknell, along with all of the defendant's personnel, were temporarily laid off due to Hurricane Katrina and the forced closure of the New Orleans Public Schools.

During the layoff, Becknell was called to active military duty and served from September 2005 until December 2005. When he was released from active duty, Becknell was informed by human resources that there was not a school available to meet his requirement for an accommodation because of his disability.

Becknell states that the defendant reinstated other non-disabled employees to the position of principal within the school system. He argues the Orleans Parish School Board committed discrimination based by denying his reinstatement and reasonable accommodation.

According to the complaint, in 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a letter of determination that concluded the school board had violated the American's with Disabilities Act in denying Becknell's reinstatement. Becknell did not receive a right to sue notice from the Justice Department until September, the suit claims.

In addition to alleged violations of the American's with Disabilities Act, the Orleans Parish School Board is accused of violating Becknell's civil rights, violations of the Uniformed Service Employment and Re-employment Act and the Louisiana Military Service Relief Act.

Becknell is seeking damages for wages and earnings, past and future benefits, mental anguish, emotional distress, punitive damages, interest, attorney fees and costs.

He is represented by George B. Recile of Chehardy, Sherman, Ellis, Murray, Recile, Griffith, Stakelum & Hayes in Metairie. A jury trial is requested.

U.S. District Judge A. J. McNamara is assigned to the case.

Case No. 2:10-cv-04539

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