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Montemerlo v. Goffstown School District

United States District Court, First Circuit

October 4, 2013

Nancy Montemerlo
v.
Goffstown School District, SAU #19 Opinion No. 2013 DNH 134

H. Jonathan Meyer, Esq. Stephen T. Martin, Esq. Brian J.S. Cullen, Esq.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Paul Barbadoro Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Nancy Montemerlo, a former teacher in the Goffstown School District (the “District”), has sued the District under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and analogous provisions of the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination. Montemerlo alleges that the District failed to accommodate her disabilities when it denied her May 2009 request to transfer to a position as a fourth grade teacher (the “Transfer Claim”) and when it denied her request in the spring of 2011 to use her diabetes pump and test her blood glucose level as needed during school hours (the “Testing Claim”). The District has moved for summary judgment on all counts.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

Montemerlo suffers from type-2 diabetes, a degenerative back condition, and a history of cavernous sinus thrombosis.[2]She claims that all three conditions qualify as disabilities that affect major life activities. Doc. No. 33-1.

In 1975, Montemerlo earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, after which she worked as a municipal social worker until 1986. In 1985, Montemerlo received her certification from the State of New Hampshire to teach elementary education, which she has renewed every three years until 2013. She is also certified in social work and as a Family and Consumer Science (“FACS”) teacher. Montemerlo additionally holds a “Highly Qualified Teacher” status for grades K-6.[3] Id.

In 2000, Montemerlo was hired by the District as a Student Support Teacher to provide classroom-based guidance for fourth through eighth grade students. Doc. No. 25-2. In 2005, she became a FACS teacher for grades seven and eight at Mountain View Middle School (“Mountain View”). In this role, Montemerlo taught four units: a career unit, an introduction to cooking and food unit, a sewing unit, and a unit on financial literacy. Her schedule required her to teach for the first six periods of an eight period school day. On average, Montemerlo taught 100 students per day. Mountain View’s schedule is organized by trimesters, so Montemerlo taught 300 students over the course of each school year. Aside from her normal duties as a FACS teacher, Montemerlo worked with fifth grade students on several projects, including making murals, quilting, and designing handbags. Doc. No. 33-3.

A. The Transfer Claim

1. Prior Notification of Disabilities

Prior to her 2009 transfer request, Montemerlo interacted several times with District officials concerning her medical condition. In the spring of 2008, Montemerlo approached James Hunt, Mountain View’s principal, to inquire about an opening for a Highly Qualified math teacher position. Montemerlo claims that she told him that she needed a position that was “less physically and mentally demanding” because of unspecified medical conditions. Doc. No. 33-3.

In September 2008, Montemerlo contacted the District’s Human Resources Department to request individualized instruction with computers and a “504 plan”[4] due to her “many medical issues.” Doc. No. 25-4. Pursuant to Montemerlo’s request, Carol Kilmister, the District’s Director of Human Resources, asked Montemerlo to submit medical information detailing her conditions and needs. Prior to receiving this information, Kilmister met with Montemerlo, arranged for her to obtain additional computer assistance, and agreed to provide her with written materials to support her during meetings. On November 11, 2008, Montemerlo provided a letter from her doctor that stated: “this is to confirm that Nancy has several health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, spinal stenosis and a history of cavernous sinus thrombosis that may necessitate occasional absence from work. She has slight slowing of processing time, and may require longer instruction, or repetition when learning new tasks.” Doc. No. 25-6. Montemerlo continued to complain to her supervisors during this period about “the excessive demands of [her] position in relation to [her] disabilities.” Doc. No. 33-3. She also claims that she never received the written materials that the District agreed to provide her.

2. Montemerlo’s Request for Transfer

On April 22, 2009, the District published notice of an available fourth grade teaching position at a different elementary school within the District. On April 24, Montemerlo emailed Kilmister to express interest in the position and ask about the proper method for requesting an official transfer. Doc. No. 25-8. Kilmister replied that same day, telling Montemerlo to send the principal a letter of interest, resume, and “any other material that you would like.” Id.

Montemerlo next sent Kilmister a letter dated April 25. The letter requests a transfer to “a teaching position within the district that would better meet [her] needs.” Doc. No. 25-9. The letter identified aspects of her job that are “particularly problematic, ” including that she (1) is required to stand for many hours; (2) finds the upkeep of the classroom to be “a huge challenge;” (3) lacks co-worker support; (4) lacks a supervisor; (5) has problems with efficiently planning and grading for her many students; (6) works many extra hours each week; (7) has trouble with budgeting; and (8) has trouble maintaining the large paper trail required by the District. She did not, however, explicitly link any of these difficulties to her medical conditions. Kilmister responded without addressing any of the concerns Montemerlo raised, again requesting that Montemerlo make her transfer request to the principal in the school where the opening had occurred. Doc. No. 25-21.

On May 11, 2009, Montemerlo sent an application to the principal of the school with the open teaching position, along with a resume and letter of interest, stating “I am requesting a transfer for health-related reasons, recently informing . . . Mountain View administration . . . of my wish.” Doc. No. 25-10. No one within the District responded to Montemerlo’s request for a transfer, and when Montemerlo eventually followed up with a phone call about the position, the principal informed her that they were looking for someone with a more current credential and wished her luck. Doc. No. 33-2. The position was filled by another candidate, with Montemerlo having received no interview and no further responses to her transfer request. Id.

3. Montemerlo’s Subsequent Complaint and the District’s Response

In the summer of 2009, Montemerlo filed an administrative complaint with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights alleging unlawful discrimination by her employer. Doc. No. 9. Pursuant to her complaint, in either November or December 2009, Montemerlo provided the District with additional medical documentation, including notes from her chiropractor and treating physician. Both notes stated that the physical demands of the FACS position were beyond Montemerlo’s capabilities. Each recommended accommodations, including hiring additional support staff, providing help with cooking lessons and other “heavier tasks, ” or transferring Montemerlo to an elementary school position. Doc. Nos. 25-11, 12.

Upon receiving these notes, Kilmister observed Montemerlo in the classroom, noting, among other things, that she looked tired and that students left the classroom without cleaning up after cooking. Kilmister then met with Montemerlo, made suggestions to reduce her cleanup obligations, instructed maintenance staff to provide assistance, and agreed to review additional accommodations as needed. Doc. No. 25-21. The school created a process to assist Montemerlo with bringing groceries to the class and provided “additional custodial support, ” such as putting chairs on tables at the end of the day. Id. According to the District, the parties agreed that it would begin by phasing in such accommodations before turning to additional ...


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