Special Needs Educator Reinstated After Wrongful Termination
Special education teacher Bonnie Grant loved her work at Duncanville High School in Texas. When she needed to take some time off due to a medical condition, she requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
But one day while on leave, without warning, Bonnie was notified she did not meet the hours worked required to be eligible for the benefits afforded by the FMLA. To add to her dismay, the termination letter also informed her she would not be able to be re-employed by the school district.
The impact was devastating, as Bonnie was the primary source of income for her household. In the months following her termination, financial hardships nearly resulted in her family being evicted from their home. She was able to find a part-time summer job taking care of special needs children in their homes; however, the wages she earned were substantially less than what she earned while employed with the school district. She also missed working with the students who she had invested in and who had become an important part of her life.
During this time, Bonnie suspected something was wrong and decided to do some research. She found a link to the department’s Wage and Hour Division on the Cedar Hill Independent School District website and contacted our Dallas District Office to ask for clarification. She filed a complaint and provided us with all relevant documents related to her case.
We opened an investigation, which found that the school had erroneously counted only the 10-month school year instead of the full 12 months Bonnie worked. Had the school counted all 12 months, it would have been evident that the hours she worked exceeded the 1,250 hour minimum required to be eligible for job-protected leave under the FMLA. The school recognized it made a mistake and agreed to retroactively approve Bonnie’s leave as well as to immediately reinstate her. What’s more, the school district agreed to pay her $12,864 in back wages and relocated her to Fairmeadows Elementary, a school closer to her home.
Today Bonnie is once again enjoying her work and is able to support her family. “I’m able to take care of myself, pay my bills, and have a place to live,” she said. She also encourages her coworkers to be knowledgeable about the school district’s policies.
Editor’s note: The DOL Working for You series highlights the Labor Department’s programs in action. View other posts in the series here.
Betty Campbell is the Wage and Hour Division’s administrator in the Southwest.