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Mt. Pleasant teacher wins lawsuit against school district

MT. PLEASANT, PA. NOVEMBER 22, 2005: A federal jury in Pittsburgh has awarded $188,000 to a longtime Mt. Pleasant Area School District industrial arts teacher, agreeing with his complaint that the district had discriminated against him because of a disability.

John Gera, an industrial arts teacher at the high school, alleged the district had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Gera's attorney, Christian Bagin, of Pittsburgh, said the district would not let Gera return to work in 2002 following a lengthy medical leave. Bagin said that the district instead hired a new teacher, who was a recent graduate. Gera had been teaching for 23 years in the district.

Recently, in proceedings held in federal court, the jury of eight unanimously ruled that the district had discriminated against Gera. He was awarded $188,000 in compensation for lost wages, interest, benefits and compensatory damages, Bagin said.

Gera suffered from myofascial pain syndrome, a form of fibromyalgia. Bagin said that Gera could not turn his head for years and suffered from extreme pain and headaches. He was out of work starting in 1990, and tried to return in 1996. In 1997, he returned to work, but left again in the spring of 1998. Bagin said that Gera began a successful treatment and felt able to work again in 2002. The district did not rehire him then.

Gera has since returned to his teaching position at the high school. He began again this school year in the industrial arts department.

Bagin was pleased with the verdict.

"Disability cases are hard to win," he said.

He said that the district will be required to pay his attorney fees. Gera has also asked the court for equitable relief that includes requiring training for district employees in implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge will have to decide on the equitable relief provisions.

John Toohey, the school district's solicitor, said, "The district did not think there was any discriminatory case." He said that the school board will have to make the decision whether to appeal the verdict.

Toohey said that the district does have teacher and staff in-service days that cover employee policies.

Article by BY JUDY KROEGER. Read the article at Trib Total Media.

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