Para-ed sues Everett Schools for medical discrimination

Says mold in Madison Elementary forced her home sick but requests
for accommodations were denied

EVERETT — A school paraeducator is suing the Everett School District and a former Madison Elementary School principal for damages of discrimination and not meeting medical accommodations after getting ill from conditions in the school.
Paraeducator Cheryl Hendrickson’s attorney filed papers in Snohomish County Superior Court in February 2021 stating that then-principal Amanda Overly had denied requests to meet Hendrickson’s medical needs and emails to the school district about the rodent and mold issues went unanswered.
In 2019, according to the court filing, Hendrickson was diagnosed with Occupational Asthma in an independent medical exam by the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
The filing states that Hendrickson needed to leave the campus when she had respiratory issues. These absences caused her to use all her sick days, personal time off and ultimately, all her family and medical leave (FMLA) benefits.
District attorneys, in a defense reply, specifically reply that the school building conditions did not have a cause-and-effect harm to Hendrickson’s health and says it did not act with malice or “reckless indifference” on Hendrickson’s situation. The district replied in court that her situation is either due to her pre-existing medical
conditions — Hendrickson survived lung cancer in 2014 — or unrelated to the building conditions.
The court document states that an air quality test conducted in 2019 found mold and water damage in the school. Hendrickson also photographed black mold in the school, the complaint says.
In the school library office, tests also showed “severely high levels of Chaetomium” mold and recommended professional mold removal. The document alleges the school district painted over the mold just in the library during Spring Break rather than remove it.
Chaetomium globosum is a fungus contaminant frequently found in water-damaged buildings that acts as an allergen “capable of growth at elevated temperatures as well as a few species that cause infections in vertebrates,” according to the Joint Genome Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility.
The court document states that Hendrickson's absences were brought up during a performance evaluation in 2020. Overly criticized the number of sick days Hendrickson took, to which Hendrickson pointed out that her absences could have been decreased with reasonable accommodations.
A court filing alleges a conversation where “Defendant Overly retorted: ‘So you expect me to rearrange the whole program for you????’”
On Nov. 3, 2022, the office of Hendrickson’s attorney, Judith A. Lonnquist, filed paperwork to demand a jury. No date for a trial has been set.
No other illnesses linked to the school’s condition have been reported.
Past problems at Madison Elementary also listed by attorneys were “ventilation going out, water leaks, bathrooms closed as toilets pull away from the wall, furnace out, gas leaks, students' coats catching fire due to an open electrical conduit and infestation of insects.”
The lawsuit says it is discrimination on medical grounds because it says the district hasn’t fixed these workplace problems. Lonnquist’s office states in the filing that this refusal to reasonably see to Hendrickson’s medical accommodations places ESD and Overly in violation of the state law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Introduced in 1971, these protections prohibit the refusal to hire, the dismissal of, and conditions of employment based on sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, military status, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability.
Nobody would talk to a Tribune reporter about the case.
Lonnquist said she could not comment about ongoing litigation.
The school district’s spokeswoman, Kathy Reeves, stated via email, “We are not about to comment on ongoing litigation, and I do know Ms. Overly doesn’t live in this state anymore, and we do not have her new address.”
The Tribune was able to locate and contact Overly.
Overly stated via email, “Because this is under active litigation, I cannot comment.”
In 2020, Overly changed roles to be principal at Everett High School. She left the district in June 2022 and now lives out of state.
A Tribune reporter’s question of the current condition of Madison Elementary went unanswered by Reeves.
Madison is one of two elementary schools the district is set to demolish and replace using a capital levy voters approved in 2022. Jackson Elementary is the other. Madison was built in 1947 and was last overhauled in 1992.