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DWD denies claim against school district

The case of Pam O'Reilly, a former New Richmond special education teacher, vs. the New Richmond School District has been dismissed by the Department of Workforce Development.

According to O'Reilly's claim, she suffers from partial paralysis, causing her to walk with a significant limp and at a slower pace than others. To help her get around, her doctor and physical therapist recommended a wheelchair.

In 2000, O'Reilly requested a "hook" be installed in her classroom. The hook would allow O'Reilly to drop the wheelchair down quickly to travel around the school building. Her request was fulfilled and a hook was installed in each of her classrooms over the years - until 2010, when she moved to Paperjack Elementary.

After filing a request for the hook to be reinstalled, O'Reilly's claim states that two months went by without an answer.

According to the district's response, O'Reilly's request was denied because her new classroom at Paperjack had ample room for her to leave the wheelchair on the floor when it wasn't in use.

O'Reilly also claimed discrimination due to her age. O'Reilly's claim cites comments from her supervisor about menopause and an alleged comment that suggested a teacher and a half could be hired if O'Reilly wasn't on the payroll.

While the district agreed that O'Reilly's replacement was younger than O'Reilly, other special education teachers over the age of 40 are currently employed with the district.

The district claims that O'Reilly's dismissal had nothing to do with her age or disability. Instead, examples of alleged incompetence, willful neglect of duty, insubordination, gross misjudgment and conduct unbecoming of a teacher are cited in the document submitted to the teacher's union. That behavior and O'Reilly's lack of change prompted the school board to vote not to renew her contract, Mick Waldspurger, the district's attorney, has said.

On Jan. 28, the Department of Workforce Development concluded its investigation and found that the district did not violate the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law.

According to the findings, the district did not disallow O'Reilly from using her wheelchair and she was allowed immediate access to it without the installation of a storage hook.

"As long as O'Reilly was allowed access to her wheelchair at work, the manner in which it was stored is irrelevant in this case," the investigator wrote.

It was also determined that there was no probable cause to believe that O'Reilly was placed on leave or discharged due to her disability.

"O'Reilly was placed on leave and subsequently discharged due to unsatisfactory performance. O'Reilly had been disabled for many years while working for the district and had been using a wheelchair for at least 10 years. If the district truly wished to be rid of her due to her disability, it most likely would have terminated her long before it did," the decision states.

Lastly, the decision also determines that there is no probable cause to believe O'Reilly was placed on leave or discharged due to her age.

"Two isolated comments, made several months apart, do not in and of themselves demonstrate proof of age discrimination," the decision says.

It also states that the district has shown it had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the actions it took against O'Reilly.

O'Reilly has since decided to not appeal the claim that she was discriminated against because of her age; however, she has filed an appeal for all other findings. A hearing date has not yet been set.

O'Reilly could not be reached for comment on this article.