Lawsuit says Douglas County School District forced teachers to retire because of their disabilities

Lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages; district denies allegations

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The estate of a teacher who died from cancer and another former teacher have sued Douglas County School District for what they describe as "systematic" discrimination and retaliation against their disabilities.

Elizabeth Rendall and the estate of Sarah Staebell, through their attorneys with King & Greisen, are bringing the allegations.

Staebell was a fifth-grade teacher at Northeast Elementary School in Parker who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012. She died recenty, the lawsuit says. Rendall was a special education teacher at Sand Creek Elementary in Highlands Ranch who developed pneumonia and subsequently required the use of a portable oxygen tank.

They allege in the lawsuit that the district wrongfully terminated both women and say the district "engages in a pattern and practice of discrimination based on disabilities and retaliates..."

They are seeking back pay in ammounts to be determined at trial, front pay in lieu of reinstatement, compensatory and consequential damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

School district officials deny the accusations.

"Allegations made in a lawsuit are not necessarily facts- they are allegations," the district's spokeswoman, Paula Hans, said in a statement. "We know that our school leaders and district staff members have dealt with these sensitive situations with professionalism and integrity, while also complying with all legal requirements."

Hans said the district is serious about its obligation "to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who need them to perform their duties without putting the safety of students and staff at risk. We do not allow employees who have been out on medical leave to return to their previous duties unless they are cleared by their doctors."

Staebell was terminated when she required intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 for her second round of chemotherapy, according to the lawsuit. The district also refused to provide additional leave under the The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 , forcing her to take disability retirement under the Public Employees Retirement Association, the suit said.

Randell alleges the district refused to allow her to return from her leave because of her portable oxygen tank. She was also forced to take disability retirement under PERA, the suit said.

Randell and Staebell's family accuse the district of targeting employees for termination "when it appears those employees' disabilities and accommodations will result in higher costs to the district."

Staebell worked for the district from 1999 and was a fifth-grade teacher at Northeast Elementary until July 2014.

In 2012, Staebell was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and took medical leave from December 2012 to September 2013. She then worked until she learned her cancer returned in January 2014.

In February 2014, she was approved for an experimental treatment protocol that included chemotherapy and again took leave until the end of the school year.

The lawsuit alleges that her principal, Jeannie Tynecki, and district officials were unhappy with the amount of leave and encouraged her to retire.

Randell worked as a special education teacher since 1994 and began working in the Douglas County School District in 2005.

In April 2014, she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She subsequently took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, which extended to the end of the school year.

A June 2014 X-ray reveled she no longer had pneumonia and was cleared for work by her doctor with the condition that she use a backpack oxygen tank.

She alleges that she was encouraged to retire by the school and a district official even though she felt fit to work.

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