A child care provider fired from a private Eastern Shore school for the disabled has sued the facility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying administrators terminated him after he disclosed he has HIV.
In papers filed by his attorney in federal court, Teran Goldsborough said he made the disclosure in February 2009 after he was bitten on the hand by a student with a mental disability at The Benedictine School for Exceptional Children.
Goldsborough said he told school leaders about his HIV-positive status, even though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of transmitting the virus through a bite is minimal.
His doctor subsequently told the school that Goldsborough could perform his job and “does not pose any substantial harm to himself or others,” attorney Leizer Z. Goldsmith wrote in the complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The school, however, reassigned Goldsborough to maintenance duties and then fired him when he rejected the transfer, Goldsmith said.
That response to Goldsborough’s disclosure violated the federal law, which bars employers from discriminating against an employee due to a disability or because the employer regards the worker as disabled, the complaint states.
It also violated similar provisions in Maryland’s labor and employment code, Goldsborough alleges.
Goldsmith, in discussing the lawsuit Wednesday, said he recognizes the irony in a school for the disabled being sued for alleged discrimination based on an employee’s disability. He predicted the school might argue that it removed Goldsborough not due to discrimination but out of concern for the students’ safety.
“It appears to have been an overabundance of caution,” Goldsmith said.
“From a medical and scientific standpoint, we don’t think they were justified in removing him from the students,” added Goldsmith, of The Goldsmith Law Firm LLC in Washington, D.C. “Employers should not act rashly, should not act on unsubstantiated fears.”
The Ridgely-based residential school serves students from ages 5 to 21.
“We have not been served with any lawsuit and therefore we are unable to comment,” Barry Smale, director of operations, said Wednesday afternoon.
Goldsborough was bitten while working one-on-one with a 19-year-old student on Feb. 7, 2009. The student, identified in court papers as E, had the intellectual capacity of a 2-year-old, according to the complaint.
“In the interest of care for E and not wanting to conceal anything, Goldsborough immediately informed staff that he was HIV positive,” and he was placed on leave, the complaint states.
The school, despite having the doctor’s report and his unblemished performance record, allegedly told Goldsborough on March 25, 2009, that he would be fired if he did not accept reassignment to the maintenance department.
Goldsborough, who was trained to work with students, turned down the job transfer.
“By removing Goldsborough from his position on account of his disability even though the sole medical opinion obtained by defendant was that the disability did not pose a significant threat to the health and/or safety of others at the school, defendant unlawfully discriminated against Goldsborough,” the complaint states.
Goldsborough, who was earning $11 per hour, has asked for a jury trial. He has not asked for any specific amount of damages, but seeks back pay as well as compensation for emotional harm, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs.
He also wants the court to order the school to post notices for its employees, advising them that it has violated anti-discrimination laws and that workers who report violations cannot be subject to retaliation.