NEWARK - A former Newark kindergarten teacher has won a $15 million verdict from the Newark Public Schools.
Stephanie Davis suffers from multiple sclerosis and was an educator in Newark for 15 years.
As her condition worsened, Davis claimed her repeated requests for accommodation were ignored to the point where she could no longer work.
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Davis became an educator in 1997, the same year she was diagnosed with the disease. For the most part, her condition was manageable. She was a literary coach, and she loved it. "The children drove me," she says. "Drove me forward. Everything that I did was for the kids."
Later, her condition got worse, and she suffered from pain, fatigue and problems with balance. Davis says she formally asked for accommodations, but was forced to take on more work without assistance. It took all of her strength.
"I'd get up in the morning. Go to work. Get through the day. Go home. Go straight to bed," she says.
Davis was eventually transferred to 17th Street School, where she was a kindergarten teacher.
When her condition forced her into an early retirement, she decided to file the lawsuit. "It was hard to come to terms with because I'm not an old person," she says. "I had a lot of years ahead of me to work."
Stephanie Davis insists she was never fired, but was told by her doctor she could no longer work.
Davis' attorneys argued that her day-to-day labor wore her down to the point that she was not able to work any job, much less as a school teacher.
Davis says her situation could have been avoided if the district helped her along the way. A jury agreed, awarding Davis a historic ruling.
"I wanted to show that you can't just walk all over us and do whatever you want to do," Davis says.
Newark Public Schools "believes deeply in its obligation to provide needed accommodations to our employees with disabilities," says general counsel Charlotte Hitchcock. "Upon further review, we are confident the record will show that the laws were clearly followed and at all times provided Ms. Davis with reasonable support and respect."
The district calls the judgement "grossly inflated" and plans to appeal the verdict.