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Former College Registrar’s Lawsuit Raises Complex Legal Questions

A former Illinois college staff member is suing her ex-employer. Discrimination and retaliation are the dual legal bases of a lawsuit filed by former Richland Community College registrar JoAnn Wirey.

The current legal controversy began over four years ago when Wirey was diagnosed with mononucleosis. The debilitating blood disorder is characterized by lethargy and chronic fatigue.

you%20are%20fired%202.jpg Despite medical documentation of health contraindications, Wirey was charged with “insubordination” for failing to work on Saturdays. Consequently, she invoked the protective legal provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). This federal law requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled workers.

Shortly after filing suit, Wirey was disciplined for posing in a picture alongside an adult male student whose abdomen was partially exposed. Next, she was sanctioned for stating that foreign students needed American sponsorship to avert another 9/11 catastrophe.

Wirey initiated formal grievances immediately after both incidents. Soon afterward, she was suspended for allegedly advising a student’s mother that the pupil’s grades were “none of [the mother’s] business.”

While suspended, Wirey was accused of grade altering. One month later, she was finally dismissed after refusing to waive her right to appeal the disciplinary actions.

Wirey further alleged that the college provided a derogatory job reference to the school district. Legal pleadings posit that this action was retaliatory and resulted in Wirey’s rejection for a teaching position. Court documents disclose that Wirey received consistently positive employee performance evaluations prior to the litigation.

Patience is a virtue in academic, pecuniary, and altruistic contexts alike. College officials may have been well advised to wait and “bide time.” Even if entirely appropriate, disciplinary actions can have devastating impact by creating inaccurate impressions and negative perceptions.

Avoiding every appearance of impropriety is often more prudent than taking immediate remedial measures. Effective administrators must accurately assess and act in accordance with the totality of all relevant circumstances.