N.J. AG reaches civil rights agreement with school district

Bryan Cohen Jul. 12, 2012, 5:25am


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa and the Division on Civil Rights announced a $90,000 settlement on Tuesday with a school district in Hudson County that allegedly discriminated against a disabled teacher's aide.

The West New York Board of Education allegedly failed to accommodate the disability of a former teacher's aide and then declined to renew the aide's contract in retaliation against her complaint to the state.

Under the terms of the settlement, the district will pay Maria Osnowitz, the former aide, a total of $83,000. It will also pay $7,000 to the state.

In addition, the school board will arrange anti-discrimination training for all school district management staff within six months. The training will concentrate on federal and state anti-discrimination laws and anti-discrimination policies in the workplace. The school district makes no admission of wrongdoing as part of the agreement.

Osnowitz suffered knee injuries in 2006 causing her to have a mobility impairment. She uses a scooter or motorized wheelchair to get around and otherwise must use two canes to walk.

Osnowitz sought permission to park in a covered parking deck area near the entrance to the middle school she worked in, but the request was allegedly refused by the school principal. Osnowitz alleged that she was required to attend two meetings and a training workshop held in non-accessible locations in the district. She requested that the event be moved to an accessible site but she was allegedly denied.

In February 2009, Osnowitz filed a formal complaint with the division alleging that she experienced unlawful employment discrimination. Approximately two months after filing the complaint, Osnowitz received a letter that she would not be offered re-employment for the 2009-2010 school year after having worked from September 2005 through June 2009.

The letter from the school district allegedly offered no explanation for the decision. Osnowitz filed a second complaint on September 22, 2009, alleging that the district's failure to continue her employment represented unlawful retaliation.

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