A foreign language teacher has filed a lawsuit accusing the Paterson school district of failing to provide her “reasonable accommodation” for her disabilities in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
Marbel Tamayo, a Spanish teacher at School 24, had extreme difficulty in walking and using stairs due to her ongoing cancer treatment for Lymphoma, severe arthritis, and torn meniscus, C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber, in both knees.
Tamayo, who had taught in the district for 21 years, fell at the school in Dec. 2016 that resulted in the torn meniscus, according to the lawsuit filed on Jun. 5, 2019. She had been out on workers’ compensation leave for six months. She was scheduled to undergo surgery in Jun. 2017, but that did not happen due to a conflict with her chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
She tried to reschedule the surgery, but to no avail, says the lawsuit. In May 2018, the school district switched her treating physician for “purpose of worker’s compensation benefits.” She met with the new doctor, who told her he will prepare a report for the district on her physical condition.
On Aug. 2018, the district ended Tamayo’s workers’ compensation benefits. In Sept. 2018, she filed a petition for worker’s compensation benefits to be reinstated. The next month, Tamayo returned to work. She submitted a request to Florita Cotto, principal of School 24, to provide accommodation.
Tamayo did not have a permanent classroom. She had to travel from class to class pushing her teaching materials in a cart. She had to use multiple stairs at times throughout the day, says the lawsuit.
She wanted a classroom in the first floor to avoid the pain of her itinerant teaching post and using stairs. She wrote to the principal and told her if she is not provided accommodations, she would take up the matter with superintendent Eileen Shafer.
The lawsuit alleges Cotto was “unwilling” to provide accommodations. The lawsuit states Cotto replied and warned her not to “threaten” her and that she “made a mistake” in coming to her for accommodations.
Tamayo then submitted medical paperwork to the district seeking accommodations. She was told in an Oct. 25, 2018 letter that the district would provide her a classroom, 2-3 periods off on most days, and minimize her travel.
“Most of these accommodations were never implemented,” says the lawsuit. She was never given a classroom. She had to travel to classes between floors while “suffering great pain and distress,” says the lawsuit. She was also not provided 2-3 periods off on most days.
In one instance, Tamayo was “admonished” by vice principal Lillian Perez for exiting the building using a staircase that had fewer steps to avoid pain and discomfort.
On Feb. 24, 2019, Tamayo wrote, again, to Cotto seeking accommodations. She never received a response, says the lawsuit.
The intense physical pain, forced Tamayo to take unpaid leave of absence from May 1 through Jun. 30, 2019, says the lawsuit.
On May 6, 2019, Tamayo attorney in a letter cited New Jersey law to urge the district to provide accommodations to his client. After receiving the letter, the district told her she would be transferred to another teaching post in a different building that presented “even more challenging difficulties,” says the lawsuit.
The district’s attorneys have yet to submit an answer to Tamayo’s complaint in court.
Tamayo is seeking more than $200,000 in damages. She also wants the district to cover legal expenses, expert fees, and other costs incurred to file the lawsuit.
She wants the court to order the district to comply with state law and provide “meaningful and reasonable accommodations.”