By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
MAYVILLE — Former Mayville Community Schools maintenance worker Joseph Mallard has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district, alleging officials tried to “starve” him out of a job after he refused to go 40 feet high in a “cherry picker” and change the rope on a school flagpole.
Mallard, who resigned his job on Jan. 12, 2011, claims that due to a heart condition, he took medications with side effects of “potential light-headedness especially where he was on excessively high elevations out of doors.”
Mallard, a Tuscola County resident, alleges a supervisor tried to make him put a new rope on a flagpole on Sept. 17, 2010, but that Mallard declined to do so, noting that because of the potential side effects of his medicine, “being in a cherry picker 40 feet off the ground was not a good idea.”
In his lawsuit filed Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court in Bay City, Mallard alleges the school district violated his civil rights by discriminating against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. His lawsuit seeks a minimum of $75,000 in damages and Mallard demands a jury trial, with a settlement conference set for June 4, 2014.
The school district denies that it discriminated against Mallard, claiming he resigned from his job voluntarily. The district claims Mallard is not “disabled” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mallard alleges that his physician asked the school to accommodate Mallard by not requiring him to “climb to heights where he cannot steady himself to prevent falling if he feels lightheaded.”
Mallard claims there were other school maintenance workers who “could have easily replaced the rope on the flagpole, a job that occurred once every few years.”
He alleges that then-Superintendent William Hartzell on Nov. 16, 2010 relieved Mallard of his job until Mallard’s doctor or cardiologist provided documentation that Mallard either could or could not perform all of his required job duties. The school district declined to respond to that claim.
On Nov. 22, 2010, Mallard alleges, another doctor wrote to school officials, stating Mallard should not perform jobs such as “working on the flagpole in the parking lot.”
Mallard resigned about two months after being relieved of his duties, claiming Hartzell and another school administrator, Robert Hiiter, caused him to lose more than $3,200 in wages in slightly more than a month. Mallard claims the district “forced” him to resign by trying to “starve” him out of his employment, though the district denies that allegation.
Mallard alleges that on the day after he resigned, Hartzell wrote “a self-serving and disingenuous letter now purporting to suggest that the district was prepared to have granted all of Mr. Mallard’s accommodation requests, but since Mallard resigned the previous day, the issue was now moot.”
The school district denies that claim.
In court documents, school leaders claim Mallard “was unable and/or outright refused to perform the essential functions” of his job. In addition, the district asserts Mallard was “lacking the skills or knowledge required to perform the essential functions of the job even with accommodation.”
The district calls Mallard’s allegations frivolous, and asks a federal judge or jury to reimburse it for any costs and attorney fees.