Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Former employee’s ADA retaliation claim survives the dismissal of her violation of the ADA complaint

Ragusa v Malverne Union Free School Dist., USCA, 2nd Circuit, No. 08-5367-cv, June 21, 2010, [Unpublished]

Malverne Union Free School District mathematics teacher Biljana Ragusa sued the District, the school board and former school superintendent Mary Ellen Freeley, alleging that she had been the victim of unlawful discrimination because of her gender, age, and disability.

A federal district court judge granted the School Districts motion for summary judgment [Ragusa v. Malverne Union Free Sch. Dist., 582 F. Supp. 2d 326], finding that Ragusa failed to adduce sufficient evidence to permit a rational factfinder to conclude that she was disabled within the meaning of the ADA, that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment because of disability or that the district had retaliated against her because of her “engaging in ADA-protected activity.”

The Circuit Court sustained the district court’s ruling in part, stating that agreed with its finding that “Ragusa’s discrimination claim failed because of insufficient evidence that she is a ‘qualified individual’ with a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the ADA.”*

Ragusa had alleged that surgery to remove a benign brain tumor left her impaired in the “major life activities” of seeing, hearing, speaking, and walking.” The court, however, ruled that the evidence did not support a finding of “substantial limitation” and that the only medical evidence in the record consisted of a physician’s note clearing Ragusa to return to work following her surgery.

Further, said the court, Ragusa failed to raise a “jury question” as to whether the school district and its officers and employees “regarded her as disabled” because of an impairment that substantially limited a major life activity.

Although Ragusa contended that she received critical evaluations concerning her teaching performance, the Circuit Court decided that such criticisms reflected that the district considered her “ineffective” and not disabled.

As to Ragusa’s allegations concerning “retaliation,” the court ruled that although she presented a prima facie case of retaliation, the school district rebutted this claim by providing a non-retaliatory rationale” for her dismissal, thereby shifting the burden of going forward to Ragusa to show that the explanation offered by the district was pretextual.**

The Circuit Court concluded that Ragusa had sufficiently demonstrated the possibility of “pretext” with respect to her 2004-2005 teaching assignment and vacated the district court’s decision dismissing her claim of retaliation and remanded the matter to the federal district court for further consideration.

* The Circuit Court noted that Congress amended the ADA in 2008 to expand its coverage but said that it had decided the case on the version of the statute in effect “during the time period at issue, which ended with Ragusa’s termination on June 30, 2005, noting that, in general, a statute “shall not be given retroactive effect unless such construction is required by explicit language or by necessary implication,” citing Bercerril v Pima County Assessor’s Office, 587 F3d 1162.

** Ragusa did not have to be disabled within the meaning of the ADA to pursue her retaliation claim as she demonstrated that she held a “good faith, reasonable belief that the underlying actions of the employer violated the ADA [see Sarno v Douglas Elliman-Gibbons and Ives, Inc., 183 F3d 155].

The decision has been posted on the Internet by the NYS Bar Association at:

Reprinted with permission New York Public Personnel Law

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

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