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12/29/97 DARCY TRUGER v. DEPARTMENT HUMAN RIGHTS

December 29, 1997

DARCY TRUGER, PETITIONER,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, THE ILLINOIS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, AND DE KALB COUNTY SPECIAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the Human Rights Commission, Chicago. Charge No. 1992--CN--2368.

The Honorable Justice Colwell delivered the opinion of the court. McLAREN and Thomas, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colwell

The Honorable Justice COLWELL delivered the opinion of the court:

Petitioner, Darcy Truger, appeals from an order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission) affirming the Human Rights Department's (Department) dismissal of her charge of discrimination against respondent, De Kalb County Special Education Association, for lack of substantial evidence. Petitioner had alleged respondent refused to hire her for the position of social worker in an alternative high school for students with behavior disorders because of her handicap, visual impairment, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 68, par. 1-101 et seq. (now 775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (1996))). We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On February 28, 1992, petitioner filed a charge of discrimination against respondent with the Department. Petitioner alleged that, on September 5, 1991, respondent discriminated against her by denying her employment as a school social worker because of her physical handicap, visual impairment. Petitioner stated that the reasons given for the denial of employment were that she lacked experience with behavior disorder students and that her visual impairment was a liability. Petitioner explained that she believed she was discriminated against because (1) respondent was aware of her physical handicap; (2) respondent contacted her regarding the school social worker vacancy; (3) according to the job description, she was qualified for the position; (4) during an interview on August 26, 1991, respondent's director told her that he would like to hire her and gave her a pay scale and other preemployment information; (5) respondent's director suggested that she observe the school; and (6) respondent's director expressed his concern that the students could become aggressive with her and that there was a possible risk of injury due to her visual impairment. Petitioner further explained that she assured respondent's director of her ability to handle herself in potentially dangerous situations and that she believed working with students therapeutically lessened the chances of the students becoming aggressive with her.

The Department conducted an investigation of petitioner's charge and interviewed petitioner; Mr. Bill Peters, respondent's executive director; Ms. Virginia Weckerly, a school counselor; and Ms. Janice Blickman, director of student services. The Department also reviewed the following documents: (1) a school social worker job description; (2) petitioner's employment application; (3) an August 16, 1991, newspaper advertisement for the position; (4) a detailed job description for social worker; (5) the employment application of Mr. Michael Postic; (6) petitioner's interview results; and (7) Mr. Postic's interview results.

According to the Department's investigation report, Petitioner stated that she received her masters degree in social work in the spring of 1991. Petitioner claimed that during her interview she explained that she lacked any experience with behavior disordered children but noted that she had a little experience with aggressive students.

Petitioner further stated that she was told that if the position was not filled, respondent would contract out the services. Petitioner believed respondent was interested in her, and she received pay scale information. After the two-day observation period, respondent informed her that they would get back to her with a decision.

Petitioner stated that she felt she was discriminated against because, even though she lacked experience with behavior disordered students, she informed respondent that she would never put herself or anyone in danger. Petitioner also noted that respondent hired a less qualified applicant.

Mr. Peters stated that respondent had two social worker positions open and, during an interview on August 21, 1991, petitioner expressed interest only in the position at the Alternative High School for the Behavior Disordered. Mr. Peters explained that the school was for students with behavior disabilities, and, historically, it consisted of the toughest 2% of the student population. The students have conduct disorders, as well as emotional disorders, and can become extremely aggressive and require physical restraint.

Mr. Peters further stated that petitioner's primary social work emphasis involved developmental disabilities, but petitioner told him that she could handle the situation with little difficulty. Petitioner was then offered an opportunity for a two-day trial observation period.

Mr. Peters was not present during petitioner's visit, but conferred with the school principal and staff who informed him that petitioner failed to pick up "antecedent signals" that precede disruptive behavior. Mr. Peters explained that he was told petitioner seemed unaware of teasing going on around her and displayed little interaction with the students. According to Mr. Peters, petitioner was not hired because of her lack of any experience with this type of student population and because of the possibility of violence affecting herself and others.

Mr. Peters also noted that respondent did not hire anyone for this position. Instead, respondent contracted out the services to an existing psychiatrist who had previously counseled some of the students. Petitioner did hire ...


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