All employers should be aware that it’s dangerous to discriminate against employees who suffer from breast cancer. The Morongo Unified School District learned this the hard way when their summary judgment was reversed by the Fourth Appellate District’s recent decision.
This is a story of a dedicated teacher, Lauralyn Swanson, who had over 30 years of experience teaching kindergarten through sixth grade and who received excellent employee evaluations and had degrees and certifications out the wazoo. Not only that, Swanson was a published curriculum writer and a successful grant writer.
But all of that came to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer had to take off for treatment and was supervised by a new principal. The new principal, a jack-ass of a man named John Lowe, found Swanson could do no right. Lowe did everything he could to derail Swanson’s career, including putting Swanson in a new position and then doing everything he could to sabotage Swanson’s return to work.
John Lowe wanted Swanson to resign and even gave her an ultimatum: If Swanson resigned, Lowe promised to give her a positive evaluation, but if she refused to resign, he would give her a negative evaluation! Well, Swanson did not resign and Lowe gave her a negative evaluation.
And then, the smart folks at Morongo USD decided not to renew Swanson’s contract.
Not a smart move, especially since Swanson later sued Morongo USD under FEHA for discrimination due to her medical condition.
The trial court granted summary judgment for Morongo USD (I’d like to read that decision!).
The appellate court determined that there were triable issues of fact on Swanson’s failure to make reasonable accommodations claim and her failure to engage in the interactive process claim.
Reading this decision makes me wonder what the trial court was thinking in granting the MSJ. This decision spells out in great detail all of the facts that show Morongo USD and its goon, John Lowe, did everything possible to frustrate Swanson’s goal of resuming a normal life after battling cancer.
This reminds me of another breast cancer case, Kimberly McGee v. Tucoemas Federal Credit Union, where the employer did everything it could do to prevent Kimberly McGee from returning to work after battling breast cancer. It didn’t end well for Tucoemas Federal Credit Union and I suspect Lauralyn Swanson’s case won’t end well for Morongo USD.
I hope Swanson’s case goes to trial because the sky is probably the limit on damages and the administrators at Morongo USD, if they haven’t figured it out already, will learn that it’s not wise to bully breast cancer survivors. If the employee can fight and beat breast cancer, fighting some out-of-touch school administrators will seem like a picnic.
In case you’re wondering, the infamous John Lowe is still employed as a principal by Morongo USD, but he is now at Landers Elementary School.
Here is John Lowe’s heartwarming message to students and parents:
What a great pleasure it is to return to Landers Elementary School as a Principal beginning this 2014-2015 school year. Having been a teacher and administrator for a sum total of 20 years (13 of which are in the Morongo Unified School District), I can honestly say that this site, in the short time I have been working here, has already grown on me. I get the grand sense of family, seeing how well the staff works together here at the site to prepare the students for a great, successful school year. I look forward to working with the parents and students here in Landers to support great learning, but more important, creating learning experiences that will be remembered by the students in the future that they can apply to their daily lives.
If there are ever any concerns; issues involving students, confusion regarding policy, or if you just want to come and compliment a staff member on a job well done, I sure hope you stop by and discuss it with me. I love to help solve problems, and can use your advice to support a stronger campus as well. Should you need to contact me, come on in, write an email, or make a phone call. I am here to work with you.
Lowe gets “the grand sense of family”?
And Lowe’s actions against Swanson with the approval of the Morongo USD Board certainly created a learning experience that will be remembered by many, if not the knuckleheads at Morongo USD, then by California employee rights attorneys.
Lowe’s line about stopping by, emailing or calling him to discuss issues sounds a lot like a good faith interactive process. So Lowe is either BS’ing us now or he did learn a lesson. My money’s on the BS or this case would have been settled before his bully tactics were detailed in a published opinion.
Lauralyn Swanson v. Morongo USD, the opinion is here.