Ex-principal files wrongful termination lawsuit against school district.
Former high school principal, Mary Williams, has filed a lawsuit in Orlando against Florida’s Seminole County school district alleging she was wrongly terminated and discriminated against because of her alcohol dependency problem. Williams is seeking more than $30,000 in damages as a result of the district ending her contract.
The lawsuit argues that Williams’ alcohol dependency was in fact a disability and the district refused to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Instead, the suit states, the defendant attempted to control the type of addiction treatment Williams would receive. Under the FMLA, employees who take up to twelve weeks off without pay for an alcohol use disorder and are seeking professional help cannot be terminated while on leave and in treatment.
While under contract at Hagerty High School, Williams was named principal of the year for Seminole County in 2018. However, just months after being awarded that designation, district officials sent the principal a letter stating she would not be rehired for the 2019-2020 school year. The non-renewal did not disclose why Williams, who had made a six-figure salary while employed, was ineligible to return. She did not have any evidence of disciplinary action in her employment file.
Williams’ lawsuit states the plaintiff was upfront with her superiors about her alcohol dependency problem, informing them of her addiction in December 2018. Two months later, in February, she spent time in a rehab facility. According to the lawsuit, “Williams returned to work on February 19, attending a districtwide administrative meeting. She had not taken any medication or had any alcohol that day. But her supervisor told Williams to leave the meeting. The next day, the supervisor told Williams she could only return to school if a psychiatrist hired by the district deemed her fit for work.”
Williams complied, and according to documents, “The psychiatrist said Williams would only be cleared to return to work if she took monthly injections of Vivitrol, a medication used to treat alcohol dependence. Williams’ doctors and counselors did not want her to take that medication, partly because of potential side effects.” Common side effects of Vivitrol injections include nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and anxiety. Thus, Williams was reluctant to comply with the request. In her lawsuit, she accuses the district of “abusing its authority by mandating a treatment program.”
FMLA protection does not prevent an employer from disciplining an employee for not meeting business needs per their employment contract or prevent an employer from terminating on the basis of an individual engaging in unacceptable conduct. However, Williams had a clean file, according to her suit, and was terminated, allegedly, without cause. Not complying with the psychiatrist’s request to take a medication that her medical team advised against, Williams contends, does not constitute as inappropriate behavior.
The lawsuit was first filed in September in Seminole Circuit Court. It was subsequently moved, at the request of the district, to federal court for the U.S. Middle District of Florida.