"Georgetown University Accused of Disability Discrimination"

Courthouse News Service, November 29, 2016 (PDF)

by  Laura Bittner

WASHINGTON (CN) – A teacher claims in a class-action lawsuit that he lost an English fellowship position because Georgetown University denied him unconditional medical clearance based on his disability.

 Lead plaintiff Tait Bergstrom is an educator who has previously taught courses at universities in China for about six years, according to the complaint he filed last week in Washington, D.C., federal court against Georgetown University and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Last year, Bergstrom accepted a conditional offer from Georgetown to work as an English language fellow in China. The English language program offered by the university is sponsored by the

U.S. Department of State, according to Georgetown’s website. The fellow positions are described on a State Department website as 10-month programs “for professionals with a graduate degree in English language teaching and two years’ classroom [teachers of English to speakers of other languages, or TESOL] teaching experience.”

Bergstrom says the teaching position is contingent on applicants passing a medical exam by a State Department doctor.

After accepting the employment offer, Bergstrom submitted extensive medical information for the exam, which he claims supports his ability to serve as an English language fellow.

Bergstrom does have a disability, but says he has experienced no difficulty during his previous years in China because of it.

He claims his disability, which is not specified in his lawsuit, is recognized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977.

Roughly two weeks after Bergstrom was offered the fellow position, the offer was rescinded due to the medical exam, he claims. According to the Nov. 23 complaint, the doctor conducting the examination denied Bergstrom unconditional medical clearance because he did not include a treatment plan for his conditions while he would be teaching in China.

Bergstrom claims he was never given an opportunity to submit documentation of his treatment plan, and the health verification form he was given as part of the clearance process did not have any area requesting him to submit a treatment plan.

After hearing his results, Bergstrom consulted with a Georgetown employee to see if there was a way to contest the denial, but he was told there was no appeal process available, the complaint states. Bergstrom says the hiring process is discriminatory because no one with an actual or perceived disability will receive unconditional medical clearance, with or without reasonable accommodation.

He alleges the fellow program’s hiring policy violates the Rehab Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Bergstrom wants to represent a proposed class of all people who have lost job opportunities since April 2015 because the State Department and Georgetown denied them unconditional medical clearance.

He seeks injunctive relief against the medical clearance policy, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, and is represented by Bryan Schwartz in Oakland, Calif.

Neither Georgetown nor the State Department organization responsible for the English language programs responded Tuesday to requests for comment.